A funny thing has happened in the wake of Tom Brady's opening-day season-ending knee injury. The subsequent development of backup-turned-starter Matt Cassel has not only seen the Patriots continue to put up impressive points, but it once again has the 7-4 team riding its offense to victory. And Cassel is doing things statistically that not many quarterbacks have ever done, not even Brady in his record-breaking days of a year ago on the way to the NFL MVP.
Cassel and Co. have put up 31 and 48 points in consecutive weeks following Sunday afternoon's 48-28 pull-away win over the Dolphins (6-5) in Miami. New England's offense churned out 530 yards of total offense in the victory that put the team in sole possession of second place behind the Jets in the AFC East. It was the first time in franchise history that New England produced more than 500 yards of offense in consecutive weeks.
Forget all the questions about whether Cassel could manage the offense he inherited when Brady tore his left ACL in Week 1, the career backup is putting his name in the record books. With his 415 yards against Miami, he became just the fifth quarterback in history to throw for 400 yards in consecutive weeks, joining Billy Volek, Phil Simms, Dan Marino and Dan Fouts. He now has more 400-yard games in the last two weeks than Brady has had in his entire career (1).
|Moss had 3 TDs in his breakout game vs Miami. (AP Photo)|
As hot as Cassel and the New England offense has been over the last two weeks, they'll face their greatest test of the season with Sunday afternoon's meeting with Pittsburgh in Foxborough. The Steelers (8-3) have established themselves as one of the few consistent teams in the NFL this season and a top contender for playoff positioning in the AFC. More importantly, the new-age Steel Curtain once again ranks as the top defense in football. They're No. 1 against the run and No. 1 against the pass.
Of course, the latter is the stat that probably matters most right now because somewhere along the way in his 10 starts Cassel has become, like Brady was, the focal point of the New England offense. He's improved just about every week, and of late is putting up the kind of numbers that people grew to expect from New England over the last year plus. They just didn't expect them from Cassel.
But there is a difference between putting up 400 yards through the air against the rebuilt pass defenses of the Jets and Dolphins as Cassel has done over the last two weeks and putting up those kinds of numbers against the physical, pressure defense the Steelers will bring with them on Sunday.
Cassel has proven he can play. He has proven he probably deserves a chance to be an every-game starter in the league, a chance he might get when he hits the free-agent market next spring. He's even proven he can do his best Brady 2007 imitation by tossing the ball all over the field to Wes Welker and Randy Moss.
Sunday afternoon against the Steelers, he'll have a chance to prove just how good he and the 2008 New England offense really are. In doing so, he might just prove that the injury-riddled defending AFC champs are not quite as dead in the water as many people predicted, and many opponents probably hoped.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think a lot of emotion out there was because of what happened in Foxborough." -- Patriots NT Vince Wilfork, on his team's physical and at times chippy 48-28 win over the Dolphins that had the teams splitting the season series after Miami's dominating Week 3 win at Gillette Stadium.
BY THE NUMBERS: 23 -- After opening with a field goal in Sunday's 48-28 win over the Dolphins, the Patriots have now won 23 straight games when scoring first.
--LB Eric Alexander was placed on injured reserve Nov. 22 after having missed nine games since opening day with ankle and hamstring injuries.
--LB Vince Redd, a rookie free agent out of Liberty, was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster Nov. 22. He made his NFL debut with reserve action against Miami.
--RB Lamont Jordan (calf) and CB Mike Richardson (concussion) were both downgraded to out prior to New England's trip to Miami to take on the Dolphins, remaining in New England with LB Adalius Thomas (broken arm).
--CB Jason Webster, T Wesley Britt, G Billy Yates and TE Tyson DeVree were day-of-game inactives for the Patriots, while Matt Gutierrez once again served as the emergency third quarterback against Miami.
--DB Lewis Sanders returned to action for the first time in a month having missed four games with a hamstring injury. Sanders entered the game on the opening series and played a reserve role throughout.
--WR Randy Moss scored three TDs against Miami, moving past Cris Carter into third place on the NFL's all-time list with 132 touchdown receptions for his career. Moss led the Patriots passing attack in the win over Miami with eight catches for 125 yards and the three scores.
--T Matt Light was ejected in the fourth quarter of the win over Miami after getting into a post-PAT fight with Miami's Channing Crowder and throwing a number of punches into the back of the linebacker's head after his helmet came off in the scuffle. Crowder was also ejected.
--QB Matt Cassel had another huge day against Miami, completing 30 of 43 passes for 415 yards with three touchdowns and one interception for a 114.0 passer rating. Cassel became just the fifth passer in history to record back-to-back 400-yard games, joining Billy Volek, Dan Marino, Dan Fouts and Phil Simms.