EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 27, 2008

Cassel arrives, but why so giddy?


On Pro Football

Hector Longo

FOXBORO — Ladies and gentlemen, Matt Cassel has arrived. In fact, the real Matt Cassel has been hanging around for weeks.

In yesterday's 23-16 win over bottom-feeding St. Louis, Cassel completed 21 of 33 passes for 267 yards, took three sacks (all for lingering too long in the pocket), tossed a nice game-winning TD to Kevin Faulk and had a pair of completions to the guys in the other jerseys.

Chalk up a nondescript 73.7 passer-efficiency rating for the day, which was about 13 points lower than his rating coming in.

Yet, the Patriots were absolutely giddy with the performance.

"He made all the right reads and was seeing the defense really well," said Wes Welker.

"He was making good downfield throws and we were moving the ball," added Matt Light.

Even the boss chimed in with Matt's minions.

"Matt is a good quarterback. He has played well for us all year. I thought he played well today," said Bill Belichick.

In other words, Bill, he is what he is.

Or is he?

These delusions that Cassel gets better game by game couldn't be further from the truth.

The fact is the fourth-year man out of USC — you know the maid of honor for Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer and now Tom Brady — has reached the ceiling on his potential.

At age 26, there is no gigantic upside. He's not improving week-to-week as Patriot sycophants like to proclaim.

When Cassel is given time, he's efficient and smart.

He made the right choice, staying at USC and picking football over baseball. He made the correct decision to learn at Brady's knee the last three years.

And he knows where the playmakers are at all times.

The kid locks on to Randy Moss or Wes Welker, and waits, sometimes too long.

It's the reason Ben Watson, Jabar Gaffney, David Thomas and the rest of the receivers on the periphery have seen their numbers tumble.

Give Moss and Welker 3-4 seconds, and they'll beat the coverage. Cassel counts on it. There are few of the reads, or checkdowns, that made Brady Brady.

Yesterday, Rams coach Jim Haslett obliged and tried to play passive against the Pats, allowing Cassel all day to find somebody against a three- and four-man rush.

Imagine the coach trying to sell this one to his defensive backs in the Tuesday meeting.

"Guys, we're not going to blitz them, we'll play soft coverage. All you (an undistinguished quartet of Ron Bartell, Fakhir Brown, Oshiomogho Atogwe and Corey Chavous with zero Pro Bowls among them) have to do is cover Randy Moss and Wes Welker for an indefinite length of time."

Gulp.

Cassel just waited and might have put a bid in for back-to-back AFC Player of the Week honors had it not been for a couple of drops by his big guns, including a pass to Moss in the end zone.

"Cassel did his job to help us win the game," said Faulk. "That's all you can say about it."

This offense, with no Laurence Maroney, is so one-dimensional, because that's all Cassel can handle at this point.

In this muddled AFC, that's good enough for the top spot in the division and an inside track toward the playoffs: Good, not great, but with a chance, giving us all a reason to watch, hope and enjoy.

Welcome to Matt Cassel's world.

Hector Longo is an Eagle-Tribune sportswriter. E-mail him at hlongo@eagletribune.com.