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Rookie Cassel leads Patriots past Bengals

CINCINNATI (Aug. 12, 2005) -- Rookie quarterback Matt Cassel outdid his entire college career in his first NFL start.

He led four scoring drives as the defending champion New England Patriots beat the Cincinnati Bengals 23-13 Friday night in the preseason opener for both teams.

"It's the first time I threw a touchdown pass since high school," Cassel marveled. "Hopefully, I can just do well and earn a spot on the team. It was definitely good to start off that way."

Cassel never started a college game while backing up Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at Southern California and now he is battling 42-year-old Doug Flutie for New England's No. 3 quarterback spot behind Tom Brady and Rohan Davey.

In college, Cassel played in 25 games and was 20 of 33 for 192 yards with one interception. He liked turning the tables on Palmer.

"He's one of my good buddies," Cassel said. "It's kind of cool that he got to watch me for a change.

"If I wanted to come out and play against anybody, it would be against Carson."

He took over with 4 minutes left in the first half and led a 14-play, no-huddle drive that ended with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jason Anderson.

Cassel started the second half with a 16-play drive that ended with a 29-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri, then led another with Vinatieri kicking a 42-yarder. He handed off to Kyle Eckel for a 4-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter for the final score.

Palmer was happy for his college roommate, the Patriots' seventh-round pick.

"I was fired up for him," Palmer said. "It was hard that he was doing it for the other team. But it was good to see him get the chance to show that he can play."

Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal in the second quarter to cap a drive in which Patrick Pass had six consecutive touches, gaining 16 yards on runs and 24 yards on passes.

Cassel was 13 of 20 for 135 yards, and Davey was 4 of 7 for 42. Brady didn't play on the 94-degree night at Paul Brown Stadium.

New England's Bill Belichick said Brady didn't play because the coach wanted to see other people.

"I thought Matt did some good things," Belichick said. "He made some decent plays. But overall, I'd like to see us execute better."

New England running back Corey Dillon carried four times for 26 yards.

Casey Bramlet, trying to claim the Bengals' No. 3 quarterback spot, threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Chris Henry. That toss came after a pass interference call against New England defensive back Hank Poteat gave Cincinnati a first down on the 9.

Craig Krenzel, the Bengals' other candidate to back up Palmer and Jon Kitna, missed three chances in the final 10 seconds to add a touchdown after a pass interference call against Raymond Ventrone gave Cincinnati the ball on the 7.

Backup kicker Carter Warley, who was signed this week as a free agent, hit a 43-yard field goal for Cincinnati but missed a 43-yarder.

Shayne Graham, who has been bothered by a sore groin, kicked a 25-yarder for the Bengals.

Palmer played the first three series but was just 4 of 11 for 37 yards. He failed to connect with Chad Johnson on two downfield attempts.

On the first play from scrimmage, Palmer was intercepted by Asante Samuel. During the Bengals' next possession, Palmer handed off to Rudi Johnson six times for 40 yards before Warley's miss.

Chris Perry, the Bengals' first-round draft pick a year ago, carried 12 times for 41 yards. He missed all but two games last year and had offseason surgery to repair a hernia.

Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said the loss gave the Bengals a reality check as they try to improve on two successive 8-8 seasons and make it to the playoffs for the first time since 1990.

"This was very timely," Lewis said. "Now they can quit hearing how great this is or how good that is. We needed this."

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