EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Win or lose, the focus was going to be on Matt Cassel.
In his first start since taking over for Tom Brady, the Pats QB was the center of attention, as was the case all week long. He noted afterwards, "It was exciting. Felt good. Not too many butterflies."
And it showed.
From the get-go, Cassel looked sharp and in command of the offense. New England's screen game worked especially well, better than it had in recent weeks, in fact. The athletic Cassel, a noted scrambler, stood tall in the pocket, running only when it was absolutely necessary. He looked confident in his decisions and was noticeably better at not staring down his intended receiver. Several times, Cassel scanned the field for all his receiving options before making a throw.
Though he didn't throw any touchdowns on Sunday, he didn't throw any interceptions, either. Cassel finished the day 16-for-23 with 165 yards passing.
"I talked to Tom a lot this week," Cassel explained, "and his advice to me was just to manage the game."
That he did, and in so doing, he outshined his future Hall-of-Fame counterpart, Brett Favre, who looked as erratic on some plays as he was effective on others. But Cassel's not letting this solid performance go to his head.
"I'm still maturing as a quarterback," he observed. "It's just a stepping stone for me."
Cassel wasn't the only reason the Patriots won their first AFC East battle of the season. Here are several others:
The running game - Not only were the Patriots without Brady, but they ended up with their starting tailback, Laurence Maroney, for much of the day. A shoulder injury sidelined him in the second quarter and he didn't return until late in the fourth. In his stead, Sammy Morris, LaMont Jordan, and Kevin Faulkadmirably picked up the slack.
Morris scored New England's only touchdown, while Jordan contributed 62 yards on 11 carries (a 5.6-yard average). Faulk ran well, caught several passes, and returned punts effectively, too.
"The running backs ran hard all day," said Cassel. "The offensive line did a great job."
"Our depth at running back definitely helped us in this game," head coach Bill Belichickadded.
Red-zone defense - For the second consecutive week, the Patriots surrendered only 10 points, thanks in large part to a goal-line stand in the second quarter that forced the Jets to kick a field goal. This was an area in which the Pats were deficient much of last season. Belichick acknowledged after the game that he's pleased his defense is off to a good start in that regard this year.
Pressure on Favre - New England's front seven did what they set out to do for the most part – get in Brett Favre's face. They sacked the Jets QB twice and flushed him out of the pocket several times, forcing him to make difficult (read ill-advised) throws, some of which he completed in spite of himself. That helped the secondary apply tight coverage on New York's receivers for most of the game. Their aggressiveness cost them some long completions a few times, but on balance, the plan worked.
The kicking game - Stephen Gostowskihad perhaps the most productive game of his pro career. He nailed all four of his field goal attempts, but equally important, he crushed his kickoffs. All six sailed either into or beyond the end zone and only one was returned by New York. That kept the dangerous Jets special teams from doing what they do very well, as Belichick pointed out in his post-game press conference.
Punter Chris Hanson, meanwhile, also displayed a booming leg, averaging 50 yards on three kicks. Two of them were touchbacks, however, and Hanson was visibly frustrated with himself on those. Despite that, the Patriots were able to win the crucial battle of …
Field position - On the Jets' nine drives, their average starting field position was their own 21-yard line. New England, by contrast, doubled that. When the Patriots took possession, they were doing so most of the time from their own 42.
Penalties - The Jets were sloppy all day in this category. They were flagged six times, a number that would have been higher if New England hadn't declined a few others. The Patriots were focused all afternoon, committing only one minor infraction in the second quarter and another (a false start) on the last play of the game.
Individual efforts - He didn't register many tackles, but defensive lineman Ty Warrenwas a force all day, helping clog up holes in the running game. And safety Brandon Meriweather'sfirst NFL INT led to New England's only touchdown of the game. On offense, Wes Welkerpaced the team with 72 yards on 7 catches.