New England Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel addresses the media during his press conference at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, December 24, 2008.
Q: Are you looking forward to some warm, sunny weather in Buffalo?
MC: Oh yeah, there's no doubt about that. It's probably about as nice as it is here right now.
Q: Even though you can always improve no matter where you are at, are you at the level you thought you'd get to or have you exceeded it or not reached it?
MC: It's been a continuous process. I didn't really think that far ahead because I never really had the opportunity to prove what I could do, so I always thought I could get it done. Did I ever foresee starting 16 games this season for the Patriots with Tom Brady here and everything else going on? I definitely would not say that, but I thought if I got all the reps throughout the course of the year, I could steadily improve and win some ball games. I did think that.
Q:How important has the running game been the last few weeks for your and the offense's success?
MC: It's been huge. Those guys have been running the ball great. All the running backs are doing a great job. The offensive line is blocking great up front and when you get a running game going it really opens up other dimensions of your offense. It kind of slows down the pass rush [and] wears out the defense. So, it's huge if we can continue to get that going and continue to establish a run game. It will help all other aspects of the offense.
Q:Is it helping play action also?
MC: There's no doubt. We were able to hit a few play actions last week and I think that goes hand in hand with a steady running game.
Q:How do you feel you've grown as a quarterback over the course of the season?
MC: It's been a long journey. When you first jump in there you have to gather yourself and you have to establish a new role for yourself amongst your players, in the locker room, as a leader. Then as you move forward in the season, you start to earn the respect of your teammates and coaches. Then it starts to become fun again; you start to have fun playing the game. As a quarterback, all you want to look for is that you continue to progress and you continue to give your team the best opportunity to win each and every week and I think for the most part this season, I've been able to do that.
Q:At what point during the season do you think you earned your teammates' respect?
MC: I think going down to the Jets I earned a little respect there because it was my first start and we were able to go to a tough place and win a ballgame, but earning respect is a continuous process and the more games you win, the more you earn the respect of those guys.
Q:Does the NFL moving the Ravens-Jaguars and the Jets-Dolphins games to 4:15 help you focus on the Buffalo Bills?
MC: I honestly think that everybody's completely focused on just Buffalo. We're not worried about other people's scores. If they had a one o'clock game, I don't think anybody would be looking up at the scoreboard or going 'gosh I hope somebody wins' or 'I hope this team loses'. It really comes down to us winning because that's the only way in which we're going to get to where we want to be, which is a spot in the playoffs.
Q:But how does it feel to know you need help from the Jets?
MC: Whatever is going to get us into the playoffs, whatever scenario does-whether it's home field advantage, whether it's not, whether it's being a wildcard-I think whatever is best for the Patriots, I'm going to go with that route. I'm going to continue to cheer for whatever is best for us, whether it be the Jets or the Ravens. I don't know the scenarios. All I know is that we have to go to Buffalo and win and then whatever is best for us, hopefully it works out.
Q:What has been the best part about being a member of this team for the last four years?
MC: I think just the people, your teammates. They have such a great group of guys here and you build such chemistry with these people and [form] relationships on and off the field, and also the coaching here, from Coach Belichick down to Coach McDaniels. What they're able to do always amazes you and as a young player who is eager to learn and eager to get better, they continue to put you in good situations and they want to help you learn and want to help you become a better player. I think that's something that I really appreciate over these last four years of being a Patriot the most.
Q:Did what you've gone through personally strengthen your bond with the team?
MC: Everybody has rallied around me throughout the course of the season and has given me a lot of support and a lot of strength for myself, for my family and everybody else.
Q:Given how things could play out for you contractually, could this conceivably be your last game with the Patriots?
MC: I don't know. Nobody knows the future. If anybody knew the future, I probably wouldn't be here right now because a lot of people predicted I wouldn't be here after preseason. The fact is nobody knows where I'm going to be next year, so I could definitely be back here. It's something we'll have to wait and see.
Q:What do you see when you look at Buffalo's defense?
MC: They're actually a great defense. They're a resilient defense. They're the best in third and two to five in the league. They're very good in the redzone-I think they're one of the top five teams in the redzone. They've got a lot of speed. They mix up their calls. They give you a lot of different looks and they've got a lot of good skill players out there. That's evident when you look at the Denver game and what they were able to do. And when I say resilient, they were down 10-0 to Denver, which is a tough place to play, and they were able to battle back and win that game.
Q:You said you could definitely be back here. Would you like to be back here next year?
MC: Of course I would. I love the Patriots. I love this organization and like I said before, I love the people.
Q:So If they put the franchise tag on you, it wouldn't be like finding a lump of coal in your stocking?
MC: I don't know what the situation might be, but the Patriots are home to me right now. That's all I've ever known in my professional career.
Q:With all the points you've put up in the last few weeks, can you envision the offense playing any better than it is?
MC: I hope it does. I hope we continue to get better.
Q:I know you weren't here in 2002, but it was a pretty similar situation where the last week of the season you guys needed to win as well as get some help. Have any of the guys who were around from that time talked about that at all?
MC: Not at all. Not at all. No. There hasn't been any talk about that.
Q:Have you talked to your brother about Mark Teixeira signing with the Yankees?
MC: 180 million. That's a good deal, I think. I'd probably take that. Eight years and 180 [million] and aren't those guaranteed contracts, too? I'm in the wrong sport here.
Q:How much better of a quarterback do you feel you are right now than at the beginning of the season?
MC: You just have a lot more experience at this point, so anytime you're able to get out there and actually apply it and do it, you become better. It's just like anything else in life; the more you do something, the more comfortable you become and the better you get at it.
Q:You mentioned that everybody kind of wrote you off during preseason. How do you feel about those naysayers now?
MC: I think it's great. When you look back at the situation and you look at the naysayers and all the critics, it's great to overcome those obstacles and let people know that you never know what's going to happen in sports and that's the great thing about sports and especially the game of football. For me, it's just a constant reminder to keep going out, working hard, be diligent about what you do and good things will happen.
Q: But has it surprised you that you have turned out to be the quarterback that you are?
MC: It hasn't surprised me. I've always believed in myself and I've surrounded myself with positive thinking people that give me the positive support that I need and that pushes me forward in the right direction. That's why a lot of the time I don't watch sports shows or listen to the radio because of that simple fact that there are too many critics out there and if you listen to everybody's opinion, I think it works against you rather than for you.