Cassel Chronicles – Patriots vs Chiefs

Our fourth Cassel Chronicle goes back to the beginning for Matt Cassel – his first action of 2008, against the Chiefs, replacing an injured Tom Brady in the season opener.

We might disregard this game as an "easy" outing for Cassel, facing a poor Chiefs' defense that stopped no one. But openers are rarely easy – you never know much about the opponent, and you can easily be taken by surprise.

It was also the first critical game action for Cassel since his rookie season, as most of his previous NFL duty had taken place in garbage time, with the outcome already decided. Against Kansas City, Cassel was suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar situation leading a shaken Patriots team. As we will see, he did not disappoint.

Final Stat line: 13-18, 152 YDS, 1 TD, 0 INT


1st quarter – 0:21 – 3rd-and-11

It's a high-pressure situation for Matt Cassel as he airs out his first pass of 2008. The Patriots are backed up on their own one-foot line, the game is tied at zero, and all the momentum is on Kansas City's side. That doesn't stop offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels from calling a pass, nor does it stop Cassel from completing a beauty of one.

With Tank Tyler barreling in from the side and a sea of arms in front of him, Cassel fakes a handoff, stands tall in the pocket and flicks a perfect pass 30 yards down the right sideline. Patrick Surtain trails Randy Moss by a hair, but the ball is so well thrown, Surtain has no play on the ball. The pass comes in at a high trajectory and Moss never has to break stride as he reels it in and runs for a 51-yard gain.

2nd quarter – 11:49 – 3rd-and-8

Cassel's athletic ability came in handy against the Chiefs.

Facing a situation that will determine whether the Patriots put a touchdown or a field goal on the board, Cassel delivers in rare fashion for a young quarterback. The Chiefs drop seven and actually do an outstanding job of closing off the passing lanes. It would have been easy for Cassel to dump the ball to Sammy Morris short and settle for three points.

Instead, he holds the ball, steps up in the pocket and looks to Moss, who is entering a small hole in Kansas City's zone in the back of the end zone. The drop linebacker Pat Thomas has made is slightly shallow. It's just enough room for Cassel to pump fake and squeeze in a bullet that is thrown slightly high, so as to take advantage of his receiver's 6-foot-4 frame. Touchdown Patriots.

3rd quarter – 8:02 – 3rd-and-8

Matt Cassel hits tight end Dave Thomas for a big first down here, but not before he reads Kansas City's defensive call like he's seen it a thousand times before. The Chiefs are showing blitz with seven defenders at the line of scrimmage and back out of it at the snap, a confusing situation for some young quarterbacks.

Cassel, however, simply takes the snap and when his back foot hits the ground after a short drop he knows exactly where he's going with the ball. He zips the ball between two Chiefs defenders to Thomas for a gain of 22 and a first down. The interesting thing about this throw is the anticipation with which Cassel releases it. When the ball comes off his hand, Thomas is just breaking open, right out of Pat Thomas' zone. Cassel also adjusts to a low snap on this play.

3rd quarter – 6:29 – 1st-and-10

Some quarterbacks throw the ball away when play-action fails. Some hold it and take a sack. Matt Cassel, however, takes advantage of his athleticism, turns on the jets and gets up the field for a gain of seven yards.

The nice part of this play however is not Cassel's ability to scramble. It's the fact that he scrambles as a last option, only. He's not looking to run when his first receiver is covered. Instead, he checks off both of his options and then doesn't hesitate to escape. He also protects the football and slides to avoid a big hit. Snap decisions made efficiently and quickly.

4th quarter – 6:06 – 3rd-and-3

In a key moment, Matt Cassel's instincts take over and he makes the play. The Patriots need a first down, leading by only four with a full six minutes left in the game. As soon as Cassel completes his drop and takes a quick look at the field he springs into action.

He forgets about looking for a receiver and, after a nice little pump fake, sprints right up the middle of the field through a gaping hole in the Chiefs' defensive line. Pat Thomas is barreling right toward him but Cassel puts a move on the linebacker like he's a running back and leaves him in the dust, picking up a first down. Cassel only had 14 rushing yards in this game, but these were nine big ones.

With one touchdown and no interceptions, Cassel did just enough to earn a win in Week 1.

Another clutch third-down completion later, the Patriots kick a field goal for a comfortable 17-10 lead with just over two minutes left, and go on to win the game.


2nd quarter – 11:53- 1st-and-10

Turning the ball over in the red zone – the bane of many young quarterbacks. On this play, Cassel almost commits this sin with a poor decision, throwing into tight coverage near the goal line. After a short drop he looks to get rid of the ball fairly quickly to tight end David Thomas, who is well covered by Derrick Johnson.

The linebacker comes close to intercepting the ball. Had it been thrown in a different spot, it would have been an easy catch. If Cassel waited a half second more, he could have found Sammy Morris open over the middle for a short gain. Jarrad Page, who was bracketing the play, also drops a diving attempt at an interception.

2nd quarter – 7:28 – 1st-and-10

It's plays such as this one that resulted in 47 sacks of Matt Cassel a year ago. The Patriots run a flea flicker, sending two receivers deep, and the Chiefs actually end up biting on the fake fairly hard. There are nine red jerseys within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Someone's open.

With the rush coming in, however, Cassel hesitates and it costs him any chance at even throwing the ball away. Alfonso Boone brings him down for a sack and a big loss.

2nd quarter – 6:14 – 3rd-and-7

Cassel's inexperience is showing. With the Patriots facing a third down near midfield, he almost throws the ball right into the hands of Patrick Surtain, who appears to bait the young quarterback into a risky throw.

Cassel does a good job of checking off his other receivers, but as he works back to his right, he doesn't see Surtain lurking in the flat, close to Wes Welker, who only appeared to be open. Cassel flings the ball in and Surtain cuts in front of the receiver, dropping the interception.

Previous Cassel Chronicles:
Patriots vs Jets
Patriots vs Dolphins
Patriots vs Steelers Top Stories