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Bit of a drop back

Cassel's play slips in his second start

By Jennifer Toland
Worcester Telegram &Amp; Gazette / September 22, 2008
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FOXBOROUGH - The reality of losing Tom Brady for the season finally hit yesterday.

And it hit hard.

Matt Cassel was efficient and error-free in his first seven-plus quarters after taking over for Brady in the 2008 opener three weeks ago, but he and the offense struggled to get anything going in a stunning 38-13 loss to the Dolphins.

Cassel, in a return to preseason form, was 19 for 31 for 131 yards, a touchdown, and a 68.1 quarterback rating. With the Patriots trying to make up a 15-point halftime deficit, he was just 4 for 11 for 28 yards. Cassel threw one interception, but Miami should have had three more. He was sacked three times.

"You learn something every time you go out there," Cassel said. "This is just one where we have to go out and regroup. They beat us today. And it's also one of those situations where it's a learning situation for me playing from behind. You have to continue to rally guys on the sideline and continue to go out there each and every series and know that it means something."

Miami linebacker Joey Porter caused a stir earlier this week by saying the Patriots weren't the same team without Brady. He stood by his comments yesterday.

"I'll say what I said before, you really don't realize how good Tom Brady is until he's not out there," Porter said. "I mean, they were averaging like 45 points a game or something like that with him and this was a different team without him leading them. Not taking anything away from Matt Cassel, but that's just some tough shoes to fill - for any backup to come in and play behind [Brady]. What he did for that offense, if you come in and try to match his intensity, it just isn't going to happen if you're not getting the reps."

For the record, the Patriots averaged 36.8 points last season. Since Cassel has taken over, they're averaging 16.3. The Patriots scored just one touchdown yesterday, a 5-yard pass from Cassel to Jabar Gaffney, were 1 for 3 in the red zone, and converted just 4 of 15 third downs.

"It's just a matter of getting in the flow out there and making sure everybody's doing the right things and getting open and getting everybody on the same page," Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker said. "We expect to go out there and score points, and that wasn't the case today."

Welker, with six catches for 55 yards, was Cassel's favorite target. For the second straight week, Randy Moss, with four catches for 25 yards, didn't play much of a role. Moss's longest reception went for 7 yards.

On his second drive of the game, Cassel completed his first four pass attempts to move the Patriots to the Miami 7-yard line, but then came two sacks and Cassel's first interception of the season.

After Porter dropped Cassel for 5 yards on first down, Cassel appeared to escape defensive end Phillip Merling and he raced into the end zone. But Cassel was ruled in the grasp and the play resulted in a 4-yard loss.

Cassel's next pass attempt landed in the hands of Dolphins defensive end Randy Starks.

"We had some opportunities and we didn't take advantage of that," Cassel said. "They played physical and they played tough and you just have to give credit to their defense."

Cassel got away with another bad throw in the second quarter when the ball went off safety Renaldo Hill's hands and into Welker's for a 21-yard gain. Later in the game, a Cassel pass went through the hands of corner Andre Goodman, and what would have been another interception was negated by a penalty.

One question will be if yesterday's poor performance shakes Cassel's confidence. He was replaced by Kevin O'Connell with 6:05 left in the game.

Cassel was stoic after the game, and Gaffney said Cassel's demeanor never wavered during it.

"He actually did a good job with that," Gaffney said. "He just kept going, but we just couldn't get over that hump. We just tell him, 'We're behind you. You're our leader. Just go out there and something good will happen.' "

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