Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel.
Tom Bradyknows a thing or two about the relationship between an established veteran and his young apprentice. Now he's experiencing it from the other side of the fence.
Seven years after replacing injured starter Drew Bledsoe and blossoming into a two-time Super Bowl MVP, Brady's the one watching from the sidelines this time as career backup Matt Casselattempts to keep the New England Patriots' season alive in the wake of a devastating injury to their franchise quarterback.
Cassel replacing Brady isn't exactly the same as Brady supplanting Bledsoe – particularly since Brady isn't coming off one of his worst seasons and is in no danger of losing his job permanently – but there are similarities in the way the two injured starters have handled their roles as temporary backups.
Much like Bledsoe did in 2001, Brady is working behind the scenes to help Cassel make the transition from backup to starter. Brady, who is out for the season after tearing two knee ligaments, attended the Saturday quarterback meeting before the team flew to New York and figures to play some role in Cassel's development throughout the year.
"I think that will be true to some degree, but we don't have a specific schedule on it or anything like that," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday. "Right now, the priority for Tom is to rehab and do everything he can to get back to 100 percent. That's a long process.
"When that's taken care of and, depending on how the schedules fall and so forth, Tom's always been great about helping other players and being part of the team, or being part of whatever we're doing. I'm sure that Tom will continue to be involved like he always has."
Brady's influence is already helping Cassel make strides as he prepares for his second NFL start Sunday at home against Miami. The fourth-year veteran looked poise in the pocket last weekend in New York, completing 16 of 23 passes for 165 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. With Randy Mossdouble-teamed throughout the game, Cassel checked off to his running backs and tight ends and effectively utilized the screen pass to catch the Jets off guard – a trait often associated with Brady in regards to his penchant for spreading the field and taking what the defense gives him.
Other factors contributed to Sunday's win. The defense forced two key stops, including one in the red zone at the end of the first half, and limited Jets' quarterback Brett Favre to 181 yards on 18-of-26 passing. New England's pass rush overwhelmed the Jets' new-look offensive line at times, particularly in the fourth quarter when Adalius Thomasfought through Leon Washington's block and brought down both he and Favre for a 20-yard sack.
"To go in there and take Washington back and then get a hold of Favre and keep taking them back, sort out who had the ball, and then throw them both down was pretty impressive," Belichick said. "Adalius has made a lot of other impressive plays. The interception last year against San Diego and his speed down the sideline – we've seen him do a lot of things, whether he's rushing the passer, playing in coverage, stopping the run or tackling. He's a strong, powerful guy and I think he showed it on that play."
Veteran defensive end Richard Seymouralso helped anchor the pass rush with three tackles, a nine-yard sack and two tackles for a loss. The five-time Pro Bowler appears to have picked up where he left off in the preseason and is finally healthy after suffering through an injury-plagued season in 2007.
"It's been a steady progression, but Richard has gotten off to a good start this year and had a good camp," Belichick said. "I think, athletically, he looks good. He has played with good power, explosiveness and has been productive."
The Patriots' performance on special helped the cause on both sides of the ball with Stephen Gostkowski's booming kickoffs (five touchbacks in all) kept the Jets from establishing solid field position, which, in turn, put the offense on a short field more often than not. Five of New England's drives started in Jets' territory, including four following a punt. New York had just one kickoff return the entire game and Ray Ventronemade sure it ended quickly by popping Washington at the 20-yard line.
"No one has worked harder than Ray," Belichick said. He's just continued to improve the last couple years. He has good speed and he's a tough, fearless guy. He will throw his body in there anywhere in any situation.
"He's become a better football player because of his techniques and work ethic on the field. He's not really a starting type of player on offense and defense, but that's actually helped him in ways in that he's been able to get reps on both sides of the ball. He's kind of a unique player in his role, his niche and his versatility. You usually don't see a player have the kind of exceptional toughness and the kind of physical play that he does that does all that."
With the players returning to Gillette Stadium tomorrow, the focus will shift toward preparing for the winless Miami Dolphins, who have 12 new starters on both sides of the ball after finishing 1-15 in 2007.
"There are a lot of new faces and new schemes at Miami," Belichick said. "The coaches are a little bit different than what we've seen from them recently. We have a lot of preparation to do."