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No comparison

Posted by Tom Wilcox October 2, 2008 06:01 AM

To a man, the New England Patriots players refuse to do it.

No matter how often they are asked, they consistently follow the lead of their stoic head coach and refuse to make the comparison.

Comparing a guy with two career starts under his belt to a two-time Super Bowl MVP and the single-season record holder in touchdown passes is an exercise in futility.

"How can you compare a guy who is only making his third start to a future Hall of Famer? That's not fair. You just can't do that," said safety Rodney Harrison. "You cannot compare Tom Brady to him. I know it's something [for] you guys in the sports media and for people to talk about, but to make that comparison is completely unjust."

After the team's impressive win over the Jets, many Patriots fans didn't expect radically different results this season without Brady. The players, however, realize that this is simply a different team with Matt Cassel under center and say there's no need to lament the loss of Brady.

"Well, Brady's done, so let's not speak about him," added Harrison. "Sometimes when your car breaks down, you've got to put different parts into it. And that's what it is. Brady's gone, Cassel's here and we all have to do our job better."

Said Cassel, "I don't really like to make comparisons to myself and Tom. Tom is who he is and he was the MVP of the league last year. I am who I am. I am just going to go out and try to execute and play my game, whatever that might be."

The Patriots clearly came back to the pack when they lost Brady, but they still feel they can be one of the top teams in the NFL no matter who is at quarterback. The questions now are: Is Cassel that guy? And is he closer to the player who led the Patriots to a Week 2 win over the Jets or the one who struggled in the blowout loss to the Dolphins? More important for Cassel, is he the long-term solution this season, or will Belichick replace him with a free agent or backup Kevin O'Connell if more games like last Sunday's unfold?

"We have a lot of confidence in Matt," said Belichick after the news that Brady would miss the entire season. "Matt's grown up through the system. He has expanded his knowledge of the offense as the offense has expanded through the years. He ran it a lot in preseason this year, in training camp and some of the time that Tom missed."

"I think Matt had a good week last week and had a good practice [Monday]," said Belichick Tuesday. "Offensively, collectively, we just have to do everything a little bit better. I'm confident in all the players we put out there."

Asked earlier this season why the Patriots didn't bring in a veteran quarterback to back up Cassel and what that said about his confidence in him, Belichick gave about as strong an endorsement as the reserved coach ever provides when he said: "That's it. He's our quarterback."

"Regardless of what you see and hear, coach Belichick, our organization and our team are behind Matt Cassel," said Randy Moss. "He is our quarterback now and we are going to go out there to try and make things happen. That is the best thing we can do."

Belichick has reiterated numerous times since Cassel took over the starting job that it would take at least a few weeks for a free-agent quarterback to come in and learn the Patriots' system. So whether the newcomer would be Daunte Culpepper, Tim Rattay, Chris Simms or even Vinny Testaverde or Drew Bledsoe -- and especially considering O'Connell is just a rookie -- a change does not appear imminent.

"We've talked about [this] before [with] new players coming into your system. There is no way exactly to know how that learning curve is going to go or the time frame that it'll take," said Belichick. "The time frame of it would depend on the individual player, his background, how quickly he picks things up, how familiar that is to something else he has done, how many reps you could give him and a lot of other variables."

Cassel was repeatedly reminded heading into his first start in the NFL against the Jets on Sept. 14 that he hadn't started a game since high school. His lack of experience seemingly made him a risky choice to lead a Super Bowl contender. But because he's been in the system for four years, Belichick and the players feel he is the best man for the job.

"To me, it really doesn't make a huge difference," said Cassel of his lack of experience. "We have been training and the coaches get us prepared week in and week out. If the coaching staff didn't believe I could execute the offense, then I wouldn't be here right now."

Brady was protecting an injured foot and didn't play in the preseason, when Cassel started all four exhibition contests. Preseason competition isn't the same as the real thing, but the experience proved invaluable. The 26-year-old took the majority of snaps with the first-team offense in the preseason and during training camp.

Cassel is just like his predecessor in at least one respect -- he always has a diplomatic response to every question posed to him. Whether he's asked about being replaced at quarterback or the team's mediocre performance against the Dolphins, Cassel always says the right thing.

"We are 2-1 and we would love to be 3-0 but we are not," he said. "There are a lot of teams out there that wish they were 2-1 right now. We have some things to improve on, and we will. There are a lot of positives going on, and we will continue to build on those."

In three games, Cassel has thrown for 448 yards, two touchdowns and just one interception. He has a stellar 67 percent completion rate, which is fourth in the league, and a quarterback rating of 87.0.

But the Patriots have reached the end zone just four times this season, and Cassel is averaging only 6.2 yards per attempt and 149.3 yards per game, ranking him in the lower third of quarterbacks in the NFL. Brady averaged 8.3 yards per pass attempt in his record-setting campaign last year.

This raises the question, have the Patriots changed their offensive game plan to cater to Cassel?

"We change our game plan from week to week," said Belichick. "We do what we think is best for each individual game and we will continue to do that.... We have always done it that way. There is no real set playbook. It is a game plan situation now."

Cassel spoke with Brady after the Miami game and expects the veteran to continue to be a source of support and guidance throughout the season. He said the best advice Brady offered is to ignore outside distractions and just focus on football. Cassel has tried not to watch a lot of TV coverage and doesn't read the newspaper. He plans to just study the game plan and concentrate on what he needs to do.

This week, what he needs to do is show that he has put the loss to the Dolphins behind him and is, as many of the players and coaches have reiterated, truly the best man for the job.

3 comments so far...
  1. A sugar and honey article with no substance. This team has a number of problems and rather than bring them to the forefront so that they can be addressed, you're covering everything with a layer of pure snow. Pleeease!!

    Posted by bregulio October 3, 08 07:35 AM
  1. Let's give the kid a break - its been two games and they only lost one of them. Good to hear Brady is in contact with Cassel - but still think Brady should be on the sidelines during the game unless there is some medical reason for him not being there.

    Posted by LB225 October 3, 08 07:39 AM
  1. The story is about the QB situation. Not the other problems on the team. Of course the Pats support the kid. What else would you expect?

    Posted by chosen1 October 5, 08 03:03 PM
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