FOXBOROUGH -- Matt Cassel was an easy target of blame for discontented fans at Gillette Stadium during New England's 38-13 loss to Miami on Sunday, but it wasn't just the first-year starter and his 68.1 quarterback rating that brought the Patriots' 21-game regular-season winning streak to a stunning end.
Even if Tom Brady had been under center, it would have been difficult for the record-setting quarterback to overcome a Miami attack that amassed 461 yards of total offense and 216 yards on the ground.
"We had trouble with their new stuff. We had trouble with their old stuff. We didn't play very well on defense. We didn't coach very well," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick after the game. "I know we are better than that."
The normally well-prepared Patriots had no answer for Ronnie Brown and Miami's trickery. Aided by a newly installed offensive set, the fourth-year running back ran for 113 yards and a team-record four rushing touchdowns.
On six separate occasions, Brown lined up at quarterback in the shotgun. He scored three of his touchdowns from that formation and added a 19-yard TD pass. The other two times, Brown handed off to Ricky Williams for 3- and 28-yard gains, respectively.
"We tried to keep them off guard and show them a different formation and get them thinking a little bit," said Brown. "After the first time we ran it, I could see them running around and they weren't used to it."
For his part, Belichick said he believed his team should have been better prepared for the formation. "We worked against it (the previous week)," he said. "That's the formation the Jets used (the previous game) with Leon Washington and he's thrown out of it and run out of it. We worked on it."
Added Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, "I don't know why in the world we couldn't stop that play. They just came in and beat our butts. They had the pass game going, had the run game going and momma said there's going to be days like this and it was definitely a bad day."
The Patriots had just 216 yards of total offense as Cassel was 19-of-31 passing for 131 yards, was sacked three times, threw one interception and fumbled once. It could have been worse: One interception was called back and another dropped. Rookie Kevin O'Connell replaced Cassel with six minutes remaining. After watching the game film, Belichick saw a silver lining in Cassel's overall play.
"Well, I think if you take away the interception in the first half, he's 15-for-20 and I thought he actually threw the ball pretty well," said the Patriots' coach. "We got behind in the game, that skews a lot of things -- how you approach the game, how you play it and how you have to play it."
Said Jabar Gaffney, who had six receptions, "Getting down like that, it kind of makes you one-dimensional and we never got back into the game."
While Wes Welker and Gaffney each had six catches, Randy Moss was limited to four grabs for just 25 yards. Could Brady's favorite target be getting a tad frustrated with the offensive turn of events since Cassel took over for the injured quarterback?
"No," said Belichick. "I think Randy is one of our most consistent players. I think he's been like that since he got here. On a daily basis -- practice, games, preparation -- I think he's one of our most consistent players."
This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.
This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports