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Matt Cassel vs the Chiefs (Getty)
Matt Cassel vs the Chiefs (Getty)

Posted Sep 10, 2008


It goes without saying that life without trom Brady will not be easy. A couple of players who haven't seen much -- or any -- action on the field for New England will need to step up. So far so good.

O'Neal Has Immediate Impact
--Newcomer Deltha O'Neal made an immediate impact in his Patriots debut Sunday and could be in the running for more playing time in the next few weeks following his performance against the Chiefs.

The veteran cornerback, who signed with the Patriots two days after being released by the Cincinnati Bengals, saved a touchdown twice on Kansas City's final drive. O'Neal chased down Devard Darling at the 5-yard line on a 68-yard catch and three plays later broke up a pass in the end zone intended for Dwayne Bowe on fourth-and-goal, sealing New England's 17-10 victory.

"That's just a gut-check. It's the last play, fourth down (and) you know they're going to pass it," O'Neal said. "Nine times out of 10 it's either going to go to (Tony) Gonzalez or (Bowe). (Bowe) was on my side. I was thinking, 'This ball is coming to me. This is a gut-check. I've got to play my part and play my position.'"

O'Neal played primarily on New England's sub-defense packages with Lewis Sanders and Ellis Hobbs starting at cornerback, but those roles aren't set in stone, so O'Neal could crack the starting lineup at some point if coach Bill Belichick decides to make a change.

"He's an experienced corner and has played in a lot of big games," Belichick said. "He's been out there against a lot of good receivers in the course of his career and has done plenty of damage against us, too. It's good to have him on our side."

Red Zone Focus Pays Off
--The Patriots placed a heavy emphasis on improving their red-zone defense this season and got off to a great start in Sunday's opener when they stifled the Chiefs from the 5-yard line to preserve their 17-10 win.

The Chiefs had four tries to score the game-tying touchdown with 1:03 to go following Devard Darling's 68-yard catch, but they failed to get another yard as the Patriots put together one of their most impressive goal-line stands in recent memory.

"I think the way things went in the red zone in the latter part of the game was good for us, just because of the way we played in the red zone last year, which wasn't so good until the later part of the season," defensive end Ty Warren said. "It was definitely good to get off with a good start."

Kansas City tried to squeeze the ball to Dwayne Bowe twice on fade routes in the end zone, but Ellis Hobbs and Deltha O'Neal kept the ball out of his hands on both of Damon Huard's attempts. The Patriots also snuffed out a rushing attempt by Larry Johnson and blanketed tight end Tony Gonzalez on another pass by Huard at the goal line.

"It was definitely an issue last year and it's something we focused on in the offseason and training camp," safety Rodney Harrison said of New England's red-zone defense. "If you want to win close games, you have to step up in the red zone and I think we did a good job (Sunday)."

Preparation Is The Key
--Matt Cassel's extended playing time during the preseason turned out to be a blessing in disguise when he was forced into action Sunday following Tom Brady's first-quarter knee injury.

Cassel played in all four preseason games in Brady's absence and was called upon again when the two-time Super Bowl MVP hit the ground following a tackle by Bernard Pollard. A former backup for Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at Southern California, Cassel finished 13-of-18 Sunday and led two scoring drives.

"This is something I've been preparing for a long time. It's not something that we expected to come up on opening day," Cassel said. "I got a lot of reps during preseason and that ended up being pretty fortunate for me because I got a lot of looks. Obviously, there's an adrenaline pump that went on immediately and then you just come back and focus on the job at hand and what needed to get done."

Cassel's best throw was a 51-yard strike to Randy Moss on a third-and-11 from his own 1-yard line on his first series after replacing Brady. The Patriots ultimately ended the 98-yard drive on a 10-yard touchdown from Cassel to Moss.

"I know the show must go on and hopefully Matt Cassel is ready to step in. From a team standpoint, we are ready to embrace him and let him lead us," Moss said. "Matt had a hell of a game and hopefully next week (against the New York Jets) he can pick up where he left off."

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