Patriots quarterbacks Tom Brady and Matt Cassel split halves, and their whole was impressive: 29 of 40 for 341 yards, two TDs and no interceptions. "The first preseason game, you get out and try to get your bearings, but this week was a lot more comfortable," said Cassel, who appeared to seal the No. 2 job with his 192-yard second half. "It was great all in all."
Things weren't so rosy for the Cardinals, who opened their new stadium last week with a 21-13 win over Pittsburgh but looked lost in Foxboro. The only bright spot was the play of rookie Matt Leinart. The former Heisman Trophy winner from USC was sharp despite having only a couple of practices under his belt; his stat line of 4-of-11 for 45 yards belied a calm presence in the pocket and a couple of nice scrambles.
Cassel, who backed up Leinart at USC, offered encouraging words after the game.
"I just told him that he played a good game ... Playing quarterback is a process," Cassel said.
|New England Patriots backup quarterback Matt Cassel (16) picks up yardage against Arizona Cardinals' Robert Tate (26) during the fourth quarter of a preseason NFL football game Saturday, Aug. 19, 2006, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots won 30-3. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)|
Arizona plays Chicago on Friday, and will be looking to rebound after getting outgained 486-151 and giving up three turnovers. In addition to allowing 341 yards in the air, the Cardinals gave up 157 yards on the ground to a sextet of Patriot running backs. The Cardinals' ground game, worst in the league last year, only managed 55 yards, 29 of which came from Leinart. Edgerrin James carried just twice for five yards.
The Patriots got on the board first with a 13-play, 52-yard drive, with Brady converting three third downs to set up a 37-yard field goal by rookie Stephen Gostkowski.
Arizona couldn't answer, and almost turned it over on a James fumble recovered by an offensive lineman. Two plays later, Arizona would punt after Kurt Warner threw incomplete on third down.
Again, the Patriots put together a nice drive. Laurence Maroney turned heads again on his first run of the night, a 12-yarder that got New England into Arizona territory, and Brady hooked up with Bam Childress on a 29-yard pass to set up another Gostkowski field goal, this one 33 yards.
The teams traded punts into the second quarter - and Cassel came in for a couple of plays before Brady replaced him to complete an unsuccessful drive - before the Patriots provided the first touchdown of the evening. Using more than eight minutes, the Patriots methodically marched down the field, with the key plays an 18-yard pass from Brady to Ben Watson and a third-and-six run of 14 yards from supersub Kevin Faulk. A Brady-to-Watson pass gave the Patriots first-and-goal at the four, and Corey Dillon delivered a bruising four-yard run off left guard to put six on the board.
"It was good to see all three guys contribute," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of the running backs. "I think they all have a different running style but I think they can all be productive. They have some good skills in the backfield and hopefully we can continue to get that production from that group, let them complement each other. I think it's a good situation."
Leinart made his debut with 1:09 left in the half and drove the Cardinals 54 yards to get in kicker Neil Rackers' range; the Cardinals' 2005 MVP put it through from 48 yards out to get the Cardinals on the board.
They would be Arizona's only three points of the game.
If the Patriots dominated the Cardinals with their top units in the first half, the backups were even more dominant in the second. Arizona only managed two first downs in the second half behind Leinart and the ineffective John Navarre (1 of 8 with an interception).
Gostkowski's 37-yard field goal with 3:36 left in the third made it 16-3, and the game was effectively put away on the ensuing kickoff. Taking it three yards deep in the end zone, Arizona returner Michael Spurlock made it as far as the 23 before getting popped by special-teams ace Eric Alexander and fumbling; New England's Randall Gay scooped it up and returned it to the nine-yard line of Arizona. On the next play, Cassel threw a perfect fade to fullback Heath Evans in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Gostkowski's XP made it 23-3, and after a three-and-out for Leinart the Patriots marched toward their third and final touchdown of the night. Looking confident, Cassel ran for 16 yards and threw for the rest, capping an 11-play, 52-yard drive with a five-yard pass to Rich Musinski in the back of the end zone to cap the scoring.
Although it was an impressive effort overall, Belichick was characteristically flat in praise of his team.
"I think there were some good things," he said. "I think we improved from last week. That was our big goal this week, was to improve our execution, play better football. I thought, for the most part, we did that. But like I said, there are still a lot of things we need to work on."
Newly-acquired Patriot Junior Seau was in uniform (No. 55) but didn't play after flying in for the game on the private jet of New England owner Bob Kraft. The Patriots host Washington next Saturday night (8 p.m.).
Jonathan Comey is a special contributor to Patriots Insider. A long time Patriots beat reporter for local media outlets, Jonathan's articles can be found regularly here on Patriots Insider by searching for "Jonathan Comey" in the archives. You can read his blog at www.jonathancomey.com.
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