Behind Enemy Lines: Pats/Cards, Part II

In Part II of an exclusive four-part series,'s Jon Scott and's Amberly Richardson continue their interaction with six questions from Amberly to Jon. How realistic is a playoff spot for the Patriots? Is New England playing like a 9-5 team, better or worse? How good is Matt Cassel? What's the deal with Junior Seau coming back? And much more in this exclusive.

Miss Part I? Click here.

Amberly Richardson: The New England Patriots are in a three-way tie with the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins in the AFC East, all of who hold a 9-5 record. What's it going to take for the Patriots to make it to the postseason, and do you think it's attainable?

Jon Scott: New England had a chance to jump into first place in the division against the Jets two games prior to their loss to Pittsburgh, but a fourth quarter comeback to force overtime fell short when the Jets found a way to kick the field goal in OT. At that point, the Patriots needed one of the other AFC East contenders to stumble while the Pats pulled off an upset against the Steelers, which didn't happen. Now even if New England wins out, they need help.

In order to win the division the Pats have to win both of their remaining games (Arizona and Buffalo) AND the Dolphins or the Jets must lose this week, then defeat the other in the season finale. The Pats MUST finish one game ahead of both to win the AFC East.

To get the wild card the Patriots must win out and they need either the Colts lose two games or the Ravens to lose one. Needless to say, the losses New England had early on against AFC teams really hurt them.

AR: Is New England playing like a 9-5 team, better or worse?

JS: The Patriots have had an up and down season. After losing Tom Brady for the year, all appeared lost. After Matt Cassel learned how to manage a game, the patriots turned into a competitive adversary, but they had to learn the hard way against Miami and San Diego early. Unfortunately stumbles along they way (An 18-15 loss to the Colts and a 34-31 loss to New York) hurt them. New England showed that they belong among the postseason contenders but injuries have ravaged them.

Right now, the veterans have picked the rookies and the free agents up, carrying the group into the home stretch with a chance to play in the postseason. They've earned their record so far; we still have to see if it's enough to earn a postseason appearance.

AR: The Patriots could have suffered a huge blow when Tom Brady was lost to the injury bug this season. The Patriots are a different team than last year's Super Bowl contenders, but they are still pretty darn good. What do you attribute to Matt Cassel's ability to step in and lead the team?

JS: Cassel looked completely lost early in the season. By the time the Patriots played the 49ers in Week 5 Cassel was closing in on JT O'Sullivan's standings as the most sacked quarterback in the league. Cassel now holds that honor with 42. The Patriots won, but then got blasted by the Chargers the following week showing just how far the quarterback needed to grow before he could lead the team.

Six weeks after that Cassel turned in a gritty come-from-behind performance against the Jets, racking up over 400 yards through the air to force OT vs the Jets giving fans reason to feel better about a loss. The following week Cassel became only the fifth player in NFL history to turn in back-to-back 400 yard passing performances.

So Cassel's resiliency is his strength. He's been a backup for so long, he knows what it's like to sit on the sideline watching. He doesn't' complain about getting hit, taking criticism from the media or losing games. His personality is eerily similar to Tom Brady and that has served him well as the Patriots continue through the season.

AR: Watching Cassel, did you, personally, see signs of greatness at training camp or practices, prior to Brady's injury? Or did you think the Patriots would bring in some leadership since Cassel wasn't even a starter in college (since he rode the bench behind Carson Palmer and then Matt Leinart at USC)?

JS: I've spoken with Matt every year he's been in New England. I asked him about playing tight end and catching passes from his college roommate Carson Palmer at USC and his relationship with former USC players who are starting in the NFL (including Leinart) while Cassel remains a backup. He recounted a number of stories about his days at USC, sharing a smile as he told those tales. To Matt's credit he never complained about not playing, how could he? He was sitting behind one of the best QBs in NFL history.

Was Cassel a leader before Brady went down? Not really. He had scruffy growth and looked like every other young player on the team. He would kid around with Brady at times, try to make the most out of his reps in camp and even get frustrated when he made a bad play. Cassel's performance in camp and the preseason was so dismal many of us in the media thought he would be the one released in the final roster cuts. Fortunately, the Patriots saw enough in Cassel's play to keep him around.

Since taking over for Brady, Cassel has grown tremendously. He's exhibited the competitive fire that he's always has, while tempering it with the California cool that has been ingrained into his character since his arrival in Foxboro.

AR: Speaking of former Trojans, is 19-year veteran LB Junior Seau really back on the team? What are your thoughts on the Patriots bringing Seau back?

JS: I've always like Seau, since his days in San Diego. He's the type of person who is genuine from the moment you meet him. Some players develop a personality around the media, protecting their reputation or taking offense to articles critical of their performance. Not Seau, he's the same guy regardless. Knowing that he's the old man on the team, Seau is having fun with it. He realizes some of the players next to him were 3 when Seau entered the NFL. By bringing Seau back, the Patriots did the only thing they could after losing five linebackers for the year, they found someone who played for them before who can hold down the fort.

The amazing part of Seau is that he's still in pretty darn good shape. He knows the defense and he can get to the point of attack. It's amazing to watch him play. He reminds you of those players you see once in a decade who were born to be NFL greats. Though he's on the downside of his career, Seau gave a big boost to the Patriots when he joined the team. It's nice to see him still playing.

AR: Rookie inside linebacker Jerod Mayo seems to be an awesome addition to the Patriots' defense. He ranks seventh in the league in total tackles (114). What should the Cardinals expect from Mayo on game day?

JS: Mayo is still a rookie. He still makes mistakes. The amazing part about him is that he's so fast in his makeup speed that even if he's out of position initially, he can get back to the ball carrier to make the tackle. Mayo is all hustle. He can get caught up in the wash (as they call it) on some running plays, but he's not afraid to stick his head in there to take on a 300 pound lineman at the point of attack.

You'll see Mayo (51) lined up next to Junior Seau (55) much of the game. While the other backer will rotate between Seau, Gary Guyton (59) and others, Mayo will be on the field for nearly every snap. Watch his reaction speed as the play develops. You'll see him get caught in traffic as the play moves away from him, but the body emerging from the crowd on the other side is usually his.

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