Monday, November 03, 2008

Monday Morning Patriots Blogging

The bad news was that Tom Brady could have won the game for the patriots last night. The good news was that Matt Cassel could have won it too.

Sunday night's 18-15 loss to the Colts was one of those kinds of losses that had become a rarity in the Brady-Belichick era; the close game that you just give away. Besides the obvious Dave Thomas unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that turned a 4th and 1 into a 4th and 16, there was Bill Belichick's mishandling of the team's timeouts and Jabar Gafney's drop of what would have been a beautiful lead changing touchdown pass.

Going back, I could think of five occasions like last night, where the Patriots let a close game slip away. The Super Bowl last year and the AFC championship game the year before obviously fit the bill. But besides those two losses, you've got to look to 2004, when the Patriots lost that horrible Monday night game to the Dolphins, to 2003, where Brady through four interceptions in a 20-17 loss to the Redskins, and way back to 2001, when Brady through four interceptions in the fourth quarter in a loss to the Broncos. I bring this up because we Patriots fans are spoiled. Over the past eight years, we've probably had more wins in games we should have lost than losses in games that could have gone either way. Again, spoiled.

So what's to be learned from last night's game? Well, for one thing, it was probably the worst game Belichick coached as a Patriot. Perhaps the biggest mistake he made was one that winded up going unnoticed given the game's ultimate outcome. But with the Patriots scoring a touchdown to take a 12-7 lead midway through the 3rd quarter, Belichick made the same mistake as the Panthers back in Super Bowl XXXVIII and elected to go for 2 with far too much time remaining on the clock. If the Patriots hadn't gone for two, neither would the Colts- the Colts would have taken the lead back on their next touchdown at 14-13 instead of 15-12. The Patriots fourth quarter field goal would have put them up 16-14, and Vinateri's 52-yarder would have put the Colts up 17-16. In the end it didn't matter, but the Pats could have been going for a win and not a tie. Belichick's other mistakes were quite obvious- the ill-advised 12 man on the field challenge and the time out taken as the Pats gained what would have likely been a first down. The good news is, we won't see Belichick look as Pete Carroll-like ever again.

And what else can be gleamed from such a depressing loss? Well, there's still a lot to be said for how the Pats played in a game in which the Colts had their backs to the wall and didn't really make any mistakes. Peyton Manning was 21 of 29 for 254 yards and yet the Pats were still in the game. The Colts running game was completely shut down, with Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes combing for 21 carries for only 47 yards. For the first time all season, the Patriots offensive line looked solid from start to finish, as Cassel wasn't sacked and huge openings were found for the running game.

And then there's Matt Cassel, who continues to develop into a thoroughly decent NFL quarterback. That pass to Gafney was a beauty and more importantly, Cassel continues to develop more of a pocket presence. For the third week in a row, he progressed with his reads, kept his eyes downfield, and didn't allow a collapsing pocket to be his demise. Does Cassel have an advantage with Randy Moss? Of course he does. But Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger have Terrell Owens and it hasn't seemed to do them any good. Every team has some inherent advantages and disadvantages for their young quarterbacks (JeMarcus Russell for example has the tremendous disadvantage of being a Raider.)

Going forward, I'm happy that at 5-3, Cassel has yet to cost the Patriots a game. I'm happy that we're right in the middle of a tight division race. (Which, by the way, who would have thought that besides the NFC East, who would have thought that at this point in the season the best divisions in football would include the AFC East and the NFC South?) Back in September I was hopeful. Now, I'm a little more confident.


Blogger McMc said...

If you're saying Tom Brady would've won that game, then wouldn't that mean Cassel cost them the game? Maybe he didn't do anything to lose it but he didn't do anything to win it either. You can't just ignore the fact that there is zero trust with Cassel as QB. Under Brady or even a more experienced vet, do you think there's any chance the Pats burn a timeout and then kick a FG on a 4th and short deep in enemy territory? Hell no they don't.

I think you really are missing the point on Cassel by pointlessly comparing him to the likes of Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger. Johnson is so far beyond washed up it's not even funny and Bollinger threw like a girl against the Giants. All Cassel is doing is hitting dinky little screens and throwing it short. He's not completing deep passes and it took Randy Moss an entire half just to get his first catch (for -1 yards no less) against the Colts.

The reason isn't because Cassel is a smart game manager or whatever. It's because Belichick doesn't want him throwing anywhere near traffic. They don't trust him to do anything but the bare minimum. He's doing things that most any QB can do and the reason other teams don't do the same is because they actually need their QBs to make plays.

3:37 AM  

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