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2005 Review: Quarterbacks

Now that the Patriots season is over, we look back position by position and review how the team performed this year and their outlook for 2006. Today, we begin by reviewing the quarterbacks.

Tom Brady – Many wondered how Brady would perform in his first year without offensive coordinator Charlie Weis in New England and the two-time Super Bowl MVP did just fine thank you, responding with his most productive season to date. Brady – who finished third in the MVP voting – threw for 4,110 yards and 26 touchdowns while carrying the Patriots offense on his back for most of the year. The running game was ineffective all season, the offensive line was reshuffled on almost a weekly basis and receivers Troy Brown and David Givens both missed time with injuries but even with all that upheaval on offense, Brady led the NFL in passing yardage. Before this season, critics of Brady said he was a product of a system and didn't win games on his own but rather he was asked not to lose them. Brady put all that talk to rest in 2005 by leading the Patriots to a division title and a playoff victory. In a season when there were so many questions in New England surrounding the running game, defense and new coaching staff, Brady was the one constant. Because he has had so much success early on in his career, most people forget this was only Brady's fifth season as a starter. He appears to be hitting the prime of his career and he should only continue to get better over the next few seasons. A scary thought for the rest of the NFL.

Doug Flutie – At 43-years-old, this was most likely Flutie's final season in New England. The veteran only saw mop up duty this year and because Brady is so durable, he was never called upon to play for an extended period of time. Flutie only attempted 10 passes in 2005 and he will probably ride off into the sunset being one of Boston's most beloved athletes ever as his time in New England appears to be over.

Matt Cassel – The Patriots shocked their fans on draft day when they selected Cassel in the seventh round – Matt Leinart's backup at USC. Talented but very raw, Cassel then surprised the Patriots by playing well in the limited action he saw this season. Cassel's year basically boils down to the season finale against the Dolphins where he came into the game for Brady in the first quarter and played the rest of the way. In that game, Cassel completed 11-out-of-20 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns against the Dolphins first string defense. Cassel looked shaky early – getting sacked in the end zone for a safety – but once he calmed down, the youngster made some good throws. The most impressive part of Cassel's performance that day was when he led the Patriots to a scoring drive in the last two minutes of the game. The young quarterback hit tight end Ben Watson for a nine-yard touchdown pass as time expired but his pass on the two-point conversion attempt sailed high and the Patriots lost 28-26. Still, as a whole, Cassel played very well for a quarterback who hadn't started a game since high school. The Patriots are excited about Cassel's potential and he has a good shot to be Brady's backup once he gets some more experience.

Outlook for 2006 – It's a safe assumption Brady will be the Patriots starting quarterback in 2006. Call it a hunch. With Brady behind center, New England is always a threat to challenge for the Super Bowl and if the running game improves, Brady should have another MVP-type season. With Flutie most likely gone, the Patriots will bring in another veteran quarterback to compete with Cassel for the backup job. One name floating around is former Patriot Damon Huard but it's still way too early to predict who the team will sign. Cassel will have an opportunity in training camp to earn the backup job but because he played so little in college, he may need another year of seasoning before he's ready to take on that role. However, if Cassel has an impressive camp and plays well in the preseason, he could very easily wind up as the No. 2 quarterback on the Patriots depth chart when the season begins. The Patriots have the best starting quarterback in the NFL and a young player with a lot of upside so if they can just add a quality veteran for insurance, the quarterback position will be fine next season.

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