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Monday, September 15, 2008
Sorry haters: the Patriots are still the team to beat in the AFC East and maybe the AFC
Sorry ESPN, every expert and non-Patriots fan around the country. You would have thought it was a national holiday last weekend when Tom Brady went down with a torn ACL and MCL. The Patriots are done, why bother playing the rest of the season? The Jets were better, the Bills were now the team to beat and even the Dolphins would be improved (which isn't saying much since they won 1 game last season).
How would Matt Cassel respond? This is a guy that hadn't started a football game since 1999 (in high school). All week, all we heard was how the Pats and Matt Cassel were going to take a page out of the 2001 Tom Brady/underdog Patriots script.
Everything went well in Cassel's first start yesterday at the Meadowlands against the Jets. New England (2-0) came home with a 19-10 win over the overhyped Jets (1-1) and over-the-hill Brett Favre.
The key difference between the Patriots in 2001 and now is that New England has so many weapons these days outside of Brady. Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Adalius Thomas, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, etc.
We just have to get used to the games this season not looking like the ridiculous blowouts of last year. Defense, special teams, the running game and Cassel managing the game will be stressed for the rest of the season.
The Jets' first drive of the game was one of its best but they came up empty when Jay Feely missed a 30-yard field goal.
Stephen Gostowski will be another star in this new Patriots pecking order. The red zone was the one area where Cassel (16 of 23, 165 yards) and the offense really struggled. That was OK though as Gostowski was 4 for 4 on field goals. Stevie opened the scoring with a 21-yard kick, 12 minutes into the game.
Gostowski hit a 37-yarder in the beginning of the second quarter. The Jets had first and goal at the 3 but after three straight running plays, they had to settle for a 21-yard Feely kick (6-3 Patriots).
In a game where scoring was scarce, Sammy Morris' 1-yard plunge that put New England up 13-3 early in the third quarter was huge.
Favre (18 of 26, 181 yards), who's always good for a costly mistake or two, came through with an awful pick in the third quarter. Brandon Meriweather recorded the first interception of his NFL career and returned it six yards. Gostowski added another field goal, this one from 28 yards to put the Patriots up 16-3.
Laveranues Coles had a 54-yard catch, the biggest play of the day. He finished with 3 catches for 72 yards.
The Jets finally showed some life in the fourth quarter when Favre found Chansi Stuckey for a 2-yard touchdown pass. From there, New England played keep away as the Jets defense couldn't stop Kevin Faulk (4 catches, 50 yards; 3 carries, 16 yards) or Lamont Jordon (11 carries, 62 yards). Laurence Maroney left in the second quarter with a typical mysterious injury (shoulder) but the running game didn't skip a beat.
Gostowksi had one more field goal, a 29-yarder, with five minutes remaining to put the game out of reach (19-10).
And when Bill Belichick and the rest of the team woke up today, the Chargers (0-2), Jaguars (0-2), Browns (0-2) and Colts (1-1) are all behind the Patriots. You can't make too many conclusions in the first few weeks of the NFL regular season but this much is clear: with a cake schedule, the Patriots will make the playoffs.
Nobody in the NFL is more talked about than Brett Favre and that's unfortunate. He's a Hall-of-Famer who took the Packers hostage and as a result, will play out a few meaningless years in New York. He makes the Jets only marginally better while the Packers with Aaron Rodgers seemed to have improved with Favre out of there.
Miami comes to Gillette Stadium next Sunday afternoon. The Dolphins are 0-2 and still one of the worst teams in the NFL.
One of the few worries coming out of the game was Randy Moss (2 catches, 22 yards) being a distraction over his lack of production. After the game, Moss (who's a captain this season) was fine with the way things went which is a good sign. Cassel had one opportunity to find Moss deep but he underthrew him in the third quarter.
The Patriots defense looked solid as rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo (7 tackles) continues to impress. Richard Seymour and Adalius Thomas each had a sack. Thomas's was particularly entertaining as he tossed Favre and Leon Washington (who tried to block him) for a long loss.