This was an important contest for the Patriots as they teetered on the edge of playoff elimination at 7-5. It was also a big game for Cassel, who was coming off his worst game of the season in a 33-10 loss at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Final Stat line: 26-44, 268 YDS, 1 TD, 0 INT
1st quarter – 12:14 – 3rd-and-6
Sometimes you make a great play and the receiver drops it. That's what happens here as Jabar Gaffney fails to capitalize on a nice little throw from Cassel that would have resulted in a first down. The Seahawks bring a late blitz from the secondary, and though it is picked up, Cassel has a congested pocket to step up into, with pressure right in his face. What does he do?
After calmly sidestepping Julian Peterson, Cassel steps up and finds Gaffney late over the middle, running just past the first-down marker. Because there isn't much room in the pocket, Cassel can't really set his feet and make a throw with perfect mechanics. Instead, he throws "from a phone booth" with a quick, compact motion, and flicks the ball accurately into Gaffney's hands, who unfortunately drops it.
1st quarter – 1:01 – 3rd-and-9
Ever wonder why tall, bulky quarterbacks are so coveted in the NFL? This play is a perfect example. Without his 230 pounds, there's no way Matt Cassel has the opportunity to complete a pass on this third down. That's because he literally throws the ball with a defensive tackle draped over his legs.
The Seahawks again send a blitz, and immediate pressure forces Cassel to scramble to his right and into the arms of Rocky Bernard. Apparently Bernard needs to spend a little more time in the weight room, because Cassel manages to drag the 308-pounder two and a half yards up the field, like a running back.
Facing extreme pressure the entire time, Cassel still manages to keep his eyes downfield. With Bernard trying to drag him down and Julian Peterson flying towards him, arms in the air, somehow our quarterback manages to release a pass with enough velocity that Wes Welker has a chance to make a play on the ball. It's a tough catch and Welker can't bring it in, but now we know just how long Cassel can extend a play.
2nd quarter – 12:20 – 1st-and-10
The deep out – the defining throw for NFL quarterbacks, a pass that requires accuracy, timing and velocity. On this play we'll see that not only can Matt Cassel make that throw, he can do it off his back foot.
Cassel got a pass off despite the pressure.
Otto Greule Jr - Getty
Because pressure has forced Cassel's protection back into his face, there is no room for him to really step into his throw. Even so, he stands tall and zips a pass on time to Moss, in the perfect location. It's thrown with enough velocity that Marcus Trufant can't undercut the route, and it's thrown in the correct spot, so that Moss can tap his feet down before getting out of bounds.
3rd quarter – 6:47 – 2nd-and-4
Good quarterbacks make difficult throws look easy, as Cassel does here. On paper, this is just a seven-yard gain, nothing much to write home about, but it's a far more difficult throw – and overall play - than one might think. First, Cassel has to recognize Seattle's zone blitz. The Seahawks send extra men off the left side of the formation, so the Patriots put Kevin Faulk and Benjamin Watson in protection.
Now the ball is finally snapped. Cassel's first read is Jabar Gaffney running a deep pattern down the left sideline, but he quickly comes off that once he recognizes the safety coming over to help. Now comes the really difficult part – Cassel has to reset his feet to throw to the right side of the field (near the out of bounds marker), and he has to do it from the left hash mark – this is a long throw to make for a seven-yard gain.
The Seahawks have the intended receiver – Wes Welker – bracketed by two defenders, so there's not much room for error with the throw. If the ball is thrown late or behind Welker, Julian Peterson has a play on the ball. If it's thrown high or too far up the field, Marcus Trufant may have a shot at it.
But because Cassel has such great footwork and mechanics, as we've seen time and time again, he puts it right on Welker's body in stride. The receiver isn't even at risk from a big hit. Did we mention how quickly Cassel found the open receiver? The play takes about three seconds.
3rd quarter – 6:16 – 3rd-and-10
Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, or perhaps you make your own luck. Whatever the case may be, on this play Cassel stands tall in the face of pressure to convert a big third down, but does it with an awful duck of a pass. Hey, as long as it gets there, right?
The Seahawks are sending another zone blitz and this time the protection breaks down. Even so, Cassel keeps his eyes down the field – something that had been an issue in the past. As Cassel is hit by three defenders, he releases the ball just high enough that it escapes the deflection of Julian Peterson, who still manages to get a piece. But there's enough velocity on the pass that it wobbles its way 15 yards down the field for a first down.
Cassel's height comes into play here. A shorter quarterback, such as Tyler Thigpen, may not have been able to complete this pass.
3rd quarter – 0:25 – 3rd-and-10
Again, the Seahawks blitz Cassel, who simply stands tall in the face of pressure and hits his receiver down the field for a big gain. With two defenders close enough to breathe on him and a third headed straight for him, Cassel keeps his eyes on Jabar Gaffney, who was 25 yards away.
It's actually quite remarkable that this pass is so well thrown. It's slightly high, because it's tipped at the line of scrimmage (Cassel injures his hand here), but Gaffney doesn't have to break stride as he cuts to the middle of the field. That's because Cassel, despite the pressure, stepped into the throw, which prevented the ball from sailing high and likely resulting in an interception by Deon Grant, the closing safety. Had Gaffney not stumbled, he might have scored from 77 yards out.
4th quarter – 14:18 – 3rd-and-7
Now the Seahawks are getting desperate, and they send seven after the quarterback. When the Patriots pick it up, there's plenty of time for Matt Cassel to survey the entire field. First he looks left to Jabar Gaffney, who is covered, then to Wes Welker on the right, also covered. With Randy Moss running deep, there's only one thing left to do as the rush closes in – just chuck it up!
Welker caught 12 Cassel passes for 134 yards.
Otto Greule Jr - Getty
4th quarter – 5:31 – 3rd-and-10
The Seahawks just don't learn their lesson, apparently. With the game on the line, they keep blitzing, and Matt Cassel keeps making them pay. They send the house here again and, not only does Cassel point it out pre-snap, when he goes to make his throw he does it with perfect execution.
The Patriots actually choose not to pick up the blitz. Instead, because the Seahawks are in man coverage and playing off the receivers, Wes Welker runs an out pattern and Cassel throws the ball before his receiver makes his break. This is virtually indefensible if the ball is thrown in the right location, and of course it is despite the fact Cassel gets nailed hard as he releases the ball. This is a huge conversion and a few plays later New England punches it in for the winning score.
1st quarter – 3:37- 1st-and-10
You've probably heard about the problems Cassel had hooking up deep with Randy Moss, and this play is a perfect example. The Patriots fake a handoff and then a reverse, giving their quarterback ample time to step up into a clean pocket and make an accurate throw.
Moss has the coverage badly, badly beaten. It's an easy touchdown, as the receiver is three steps behind the coverage and there's no safety coming over to help. But Cassel simply overthrows the ball, and in fact may have thrown it a little off center, as Moss adjusts his pattern to the left when he sees the ball. A missed opportunity for a quick, long touchdown.
2nd quarter – 5:31 - 1st-and-10
There are few opportunities for truly big plays in the NFL, so missing one goes down as a definite negative. On this snap, everything is perfect except Matt Cassel, who misses a wide open Wes Welker, negating a potentially gigantic pass.
The Patriots run play-action and Cassel has plenty of time to step up and make an accurate throw. There's a little pressure in his face, but not much. Welker has his man coverage completely toasted – there's a huge hole in the middle of the secondary. For whatever reason, the ball is thrown behind the receiver and low, so poorly that only a diving stab can be made at it.
Had Cassel hit Welker in stride, he might have gained 30 yards. Another missed opportunity.
3rd quarter – 3:41 - 1st-and-10
Matt Cassel undoubtedly knows he doesn't have Jay Cutler's arm. So why attempt a pass that requires such an attribute? This play is another example of how a quarterback's athleticism can sometimes get him into trouble.
The Seahawks deny the Patriots a quick pass to the left, but rather than throwing the ball away, Cassel runs out to his right. With Randy Moss slightly open crossing the field, Cassel attempts to throw back across his body as he runs. Marcus Trufant is trailing the play and easily tips the pass away. Had it been thrown a few inches in the wrong direction, it would have been intercepted, snuffing out a promising Patriots drive.
4th quarter – 5:35 – 2nd-and-10
How do you miss a wide open receiver standing 10 yards in front of you? For some reason, Cassel has a tendency to just flat miss a throw once in awhile, and it happens here again.
With no pressure in his face and Wes Welker running a shallow cross (we're talking a three-yard pattern), Cassel just skips the ball in the dirt to his receiver. This is a particularly bad play because it sets up a third and long situation (Cassel would make up for it on the next play as described in our positives section).
Previous Cassel Chronicles:
Patriots vs Jets
Patriots vs Dolphins
Patriots vs Steelers
Patriots vs Chiefs