I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that I wasn't the only one who who shared these feelings of being underwhelmed by Cassel's subpar pre-season. To be honest, I was a bit surprised given the fact Cassel has spent the last six years as a back up behind some of the best NCAA and NFL talent around i.e. Tom Brady, Matt Leinhart and Carson Palmer. If Cassel had learned anything from this trio of Heisman winning/MVP caliber QBs, he sure wasn't showing it in the pre-season.
I have to admit, I was somewhat surprised by his poor pre-season showing based on some of Cassel's garbage time performances at the end of the 2006 and 2007 seasons where he seemed to be progressing nicely. And with offensive weapons like Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Lawrence Maroney, and an All Pro offensive line, you or I should be able to step in and manage the Pats to at least a 10-6 record, right? Instead, it was third stringer, Matt Gutierrez who seemed to step up and deliver in July and August. Thus the look of horror on Pats fans' faces as Brady writhed on the ground clutching his knee. Pleas of "Please don't let it be the ACL!" gave way to "oh shit, we have 15+ weeks with Cassel at the helm." Our only hope was to potentially scoop up the likes of a Daunte Culpepper to try and salvage the rest of the season.
Well, it's eleven weeks later and many of us are saying, "Tom who?" My dad was even brazen enough to ask me last night at dinner, "Who do you think the Pats could get for Brady." He was serious. I said, "Dad, let's talk about who the Red Sox are going to get for David Ortiz, because as much of a stretch as it is that the Sox would get rid of Papi, it's still a million times more likely than the Pats trading Brady. This type of talk is a leading indicator that Cassel is making people forget about Tom Terrific.
To that end, through week twelve Cassel is starting to put up some impressive numbers. While his TD to INT ratio is only 3:2 (15 TDs vs. 10 INTs), he's already thrown for 2,868 yards -- 415 and 400 yards respectively in his last two games alone. He's also rushed for 198 yards which is almost unheard of in the history of the Patriots QBs. What's most important to note is that over the last two games, Cassel has really stepped up his game and has been a TD/passing machine! Let's also not forget that thanks to Matt "Big Game" Cassel, the Pats are now sitting at 7-4 alone in second place in the AFC East and are tied with the Colts and Ravens for the Wild Card with five games to go.
What's most interesting are comparisons that SI beat writer (and NFL guru) Peter King, included in this morning's Monday Morning Quarterback column:
"Now this stat is eerie: After Tom Brady's first 11 starts in the NFL, his completion percentage was 66.3. After Matt Cassel's 11 NFL games this season, his completion percentage is ... well, 66.3...It's crazy and all-too-soon and slightly irreverent. But it is also unavoidable. Life is imitating art. The career path of Cassel is following Brady's. Brady's record after 11 games: 8-3. Cassel's: 7-4 -- and if the Pats had won the overtime coin flip a week ago Thursday, I bet those records would be the same. Brady's rating: 91.6. Cassel's: 90.5. Cassel leads Brady by 377 passing yards, thanks to Cassel's back-to-back 400-yard passing games. (Been on Mars? That's no misprint.) As for touchdowns, Brady leads Cassel by three.
Bringing this conversation back around to reality... IF the Patriots make it to the playoffs this year and that is a big IF, and Cassel lays an egg, everyone will once again be clammering for Tommy B. to be back in blue and silver next season. But if the Pats do make it to the post season, it will be interesting to see if Cassel can continue to Channel Brady. Who knows, we all thought we could never live with out Bledsoe, right?