For the most part, Matt Cassellooked in complete control.
Of his seven misfires Sunday in the Meadowlands, the Patriots backup-QB-turned-starter could only be blamed for four of them (one was dropped by an intended receiver, while two others were defended nicely by the New York Jets defense).
A key reason for the apparent ease with which Cassel directed the Pats offense: he had time to pick out his targets and throw to them. Much of the credit for that rests with the offensive line, which remains without starting right guard Stephen Neal (on the PUP list until at least Week 7). Veterans Billy Yates and Russ Hochsteinhave been filling in for Neal.
Except for three sacks surrendered at the beginning of the second half Sunday afternoon, New England's line protected Cassel fairly well.
"I thought we had our moments," head coach Bill Belichickcommented Monday after reviewing the game film. "It was competitive. [The Jets defense] gave us a few problems, and we gave them some."
It wasn't just one player who gave the Pats fits early in the third. Outside linebacker Bryan Thomasregistered the first sack of Cassel on the first play of the half. Two plays later, safety David Barrettand inside linebacker David Harrissplit the sack. And on the first play of New England's next series, massive nose tackle Kris Jenkins– a high-priced free agent signed by the Jets this off-seaon – took Cassel down.
On those three plays in particular, Belichick explained that it wasn't necessarily a result of a breakdown in protection up front.
"There really weren't a lot of adjustments to be made. We had them picked up, we just … by the time the route developed and the quarterback was trying to throw the ball, there just wasn't enough time to get it off. We just didn't keep them out long enough relative to the length of [pass] patterns.
"Had the patterns been shorter, we probably would have been able to hit them, or had the blocking been a little bit better, we would have had a little more time to throw. It just didn't time up right. We just didn't do a good job on those plays. But it wasn't like we came off the field and said, 'Wow, we hadn't seen that before. What did they do?' It just wasn't that kind of a situation."
Belichick went on to point out that there were several other instances when New York sent "free rushers" – guys like safey Kerry Rhodeswho weren't picked up by anyone on the Patriots offense. In those cases, however, New England's play-calling saved Cassel.
"The ball was gone before they got there. So, those shorter routes were designed so that if they did blitz, we could get rid of the ball," said Belichick.
Those three big plays notwithstanding, Belichick still came away impressed by the aggressive Jets defense, which his team will face again in a nationally televised Thursday night game in Foxborough in November.
"Jenkins is a force, no doubt about it. He's a force in there," he said of the 6-4, 350-pounder.
"They're a good pass-rushing team. They have a good rotation. Big group of guys in there. Good outside rushers, blitz package with Rhodes. They brought him several times. I thought our line stood up to them and did a good job several times. Other times, it could have been better. But I think that's what you're going to get against that type of team."
On the other side of the ball, New England' s front seven managed a pair of sacks against Jets QB Brett Favre– in spite of Favre's best efforts to elude them. The Patriots brought pressure to Favre all game, yet several of New York's biggest plays, in fact, came when it appeared the Pats had Favre right where they wanted him.
"Well, that was the problem," Belichick observed with a grin and a chuckle. "Sometimes, we had some pressure and he was elusive and got away from it and nailed us with some plays. You know, getting pressure, that's part of it. But containing him and keeping him from having the play go too long and getting rid of the ball, we've got to work on that, too … Keeping him confined so he can't run around make some of those loose plays."
In the locker room after team and positional meetings, LB Adalius Thomas, who registered one of the Patriots sacks of Favre Sunday, joked about the play with reporters. He said he thought Favre was actually going to try to throw the ball on the play, during which Thomas took him down with one arm while Jets running back Leon Washingtongot caught in between them. Thomas ended up taking them both down with his Herculean effort.
The Patriots made some transactions Monday, releasing TE Stephen Spachand practice squad punter Tom Malone. Fullback Kyle Eckelrejoins the 53-man roster, and safety Mark Dillard is back with the club as a member of the practice squad.