EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 24, 2008

Brady who?

Cassel becoming one of the greatest stories ever in NFL


Bill Burt

What do Matt Cassel and "Bob from Accountemps" have in common?

They both are making life difficult for the people they have replaced.

OK, I'm joking. Tom Brady's job is safe. I stand by the point that Brady may indeed be the best NFL quarterback. Ever.

But you get my point.

Cassel is an ugly Jabar Gaffney drop in Indianapolis and a coin toss in OT against the New York Jets from leading the New England Patriots to a probable AFC East division championship and first-round bye in January.

While neither will probably happen - the Jets are officially for real after their convincing win in Tennessee yesterday - after his performance yesterday in a 48-28 win over the Dolphins, I wouldn't bet against the Patriots with Cassel at quarterback.

This is becoming one of the greatest stories in NFL history.

Yes, history.

We have to remind ourselves, Cassel never started a game in college. He never was "The Man" on a college campus or NFL city. He never engineered a fourth-quarter comeback. He never had to score on almost every possession. Heck, many wondered if he'd even make the team after he struggled in the preseason games (19 of 34, 165 yards, 0 TDs, 1 interception, puny 56.6 QB rating).

Carrying a team? The only thing he had experience carrying the previous seven years was his helmet and a clipboard.

Here we are, a week from December, and Cassel continues to outdo himself.

Cassel was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance on Oct. 20 against the Denver Broncos — 18-for-24, 185 yards, 3 TDs.

Actually, that was one of Cassel's so-so performances.

He was even better in Indianapolis — 25-for-34, 204 yards — outdueling Peyton Manning before Gaffney dropped a sure touchdown.

A week later, he was a tad better against the Bills, a 20-10 win. Cassel completed 22 of 32 passes for 234 yards, rushing for one touchdowns.

Then, four days after that, he took it to another level against the Jets. Trailing 24-6, with the Jets knowing Cassel would be throwing on virtually every down, Cassel had the game of his career.

He threw for 400 yards, completing 31 of 50 passes for three TDs, including the play of the year on the final play in regulation to Randy Moss, to tie the score.

Cassel never got to show his wares in overtime, as the Jets won the toss and the game soon after.

Which leads us to yesterday in Miami.

It was classic Tom Brady.

The Dolphins took the lead three times with touchdowns. Cassel responded to each of those scores by leading the Patriots to touchdowns of their own.

What made it even more special was the fact that he had to do it alone for most of three quarters. Miami moved the ball up and down the field on the Patriots — that is a story for another day — but it didn't matter because Cassel was too good.

Cassel had to overcome two turnovers, a Sammy Morris fumble and an interception that Moss should have had.

He outlasted Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington, who had a very good game until a fourth quarter interception by Brandon Meriweather.

By the time Cassel was through, more personal records fell. He completed 30 of 43 passes for 415 yards, including three for touchdowns. He also ran for another TD.

Oh, yes, I forget to mention that Miami had allowed 19.7 points per game before Cassel's boys put up 48 yesterday.

He is now among only five NFL quarterbacks to throw 400 or more yards in back-to-back games.

Really, though, he is now among the best quarterbacks in the league. Right now, he is playing the position as well as anybody in the NFL.

One of the enlightening developments yesterday was that Cassel learned his bread will best be buttered by throwing it to Moss.

When the going gets tough, and it will get tougher as the temperatures drop, Moss (8 catches, 125 yards, 3 TDs) will be his money man.

Is there an end point here? Will Cassel continue to get better? Is it possible to get any better?

It's an amazing story. I'll be honest. I can't wait to see how it ends.

E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com