Cassel is ready to take over for Brady11:21 AM Mon, Sep 08, 2008 | Permalink
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By ROBERT LEE
FOXBORO -- Yesterday was a bitter-sweet day for Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel.
He finally got to play significant time in a meaningful NFL game, but it came at a cost - a reported season-ending knee injury to his good friend and All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady, the reigning Most Valuable Player of the NFL.
"You never want to see that happen to a guy like Tom, who's been a mentor for me since I've been here, to go down with an injury but it is part of this business, unfortunately," Cassel said this morning on WEEI's Patriots Monday. "We've got to step up and get ready to go. When your number is called, you just have to be ready."
Cassel said that he was hoping to play yesterday, but at the end of the game in a blowout contest, not in the first quarter. Brady injured his knee with 7:27 remaining in the first quarter after completing a 28 yard pass to Randy Moss and then being taken down by Kansas City safety Bernard Pollard.
Moss fumbled and turned the ball over on the play.
"When you see Tom get knocked down like that, you don't really know what's going on at first because, and I've said this before, I've been here for four years and every time I've seen him get knocked down, he might be shaken up on the play but he [always] gets right back up," said Cassel, who completed 13-of-18 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown for a 116 quarterback rating.
"I knew it was serious when he stayed down for a little longer out there so when it all started to happen, the adrenalin pumped, it immediately kicked in, and I didn't know if we were going to get the ball and if I was going to go out on the field so I just strapped on the helmet and got ready to go. Then when I found out that we did lose the ball, I just used that time to really settle myself, get focused, and get ready to go in."
Cassel will be starting this Sunday against the New York Jets and because of that, he will take the bulk of the snaps this week, which he said will help him prepare. He said that the backup quarterback normally only gets five percent of the snaps with the first-string offense in the week leading up to the game.
"I think the preparation will definitely help," Cassel said. "During the course of any given game week, normally the No. 2 quarterback doesn't get many reps, so going into yesterday I prepared like I was a starter but mainly it's mental so I'll have probably some more physical reps this week. I'll be able to prepare and get ready to go against the Jets."
Even though he didn't take very many reps with the first-string offense in the week leading up to yesterday's victory over Kansas City, he said that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels did not alter the game plan.
"If something happens to one of the starters you have to be ready to go and we have to close ranks and move forward," Cassel said. "The game plan really didn't change from what it was when Tom was in the game. We ran the same calls. We went through the same calls on the play sheets. It's not as if they have a separate play sheet for Matt Cassel versus Tom Brady so I just go in there and I do what the coaches tell me and I let those guys figure out the best plays that give us the best opportunities for us to score and try to execute that game plan."
Cassel's two biggest completions were to Randy Moss. The first was a 51-yard strike on third-and-11 from inside the Patriots own 1-yard-line, and the second was a 10-yard touchdown pass that gave New England a 7-0 lead.
"I've worked with Randy throughout camp and I've got tremendous confidence in him," Cassel said. "You just go out there and you react to the game circumstances and I know that he works hard to get open for me and I try to put the ball in a position where he can make a play on it. He was able to do that for me yesterday."
Cassel's first NFL start this Sunday will be a long time coming for him. He has not started a game since 1999, when he was in high school.
"There were a number of times here where I thought, `what the heck am I doing here?'" Cassel said when the years kept going by without a start. "It's been a long wait but it comes down to perseverance, and to continue to push and to work hard, and eventually believe in that time is going to come. Yesterday was a great illustration of [that]. You never know when that time is going to come or when it's going to come.
"I woke up yesterday morning thinking, Oh gosh, I hope I get in late in the game, I hope we're beating them by a lot of points to be completely honest. Little did I know, I'd be in there in the first quarter and I'd have to go down and score some points and lead the team."
While many media pundits thought Cassel might be cut after a poor showing in the preseason, Cassel never lost confidence.
"I felt good about my chances of making the team," Cassel said. "A lot of times you go in and you don't know how you performed but then you watch the film internally with the coaching staff and they make the decision and I received good feedback throughout the preseason from the coaching staff about how I was playing and it was one of those situations where I felt comparable to Matt [Gutierrez].
"He worked real hard and did a great job and prepared well and did a good job in preseason as well but that's the nature of this business, cuts have to me made and fortunately for me I was able to stick around."
Cassel said that he is looking forward to starting against the Jets on Sunday.
"I'm really excited. It's a division game. There is going to be a lot of excitement in the air. The game means a lot and I am just going to go out and prepare to the best of my abilities and get the team ready to go and go down there and give a great effort."
In addition, Cassel said, he is going to be himself on the field, and not try to be like Brady.
"Tom was the MVP of the NFL last year," Cassel said. "He's probably going to go down as one of the top five greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. I'm not trying to be Tom Brady. I'm just trying to be Matt Cassel and I don't know where that is going to take us right now but I know that I'm going to go out there and give 110 percent effort and try to emulate Tom on the field and off the field and go from there."