Normally, you'd have to look long and hard to find a positive from a debilitating loss to a division rival in which you slipped into second place, but the New England Patriots can take a little something from Thursday's setback against the Jets.
The quarterback situation is no longer an issue. After his latest sharp performance against the New York Jets, no one should question Matt Cassel's ability.
Cassel set a career high with 400 yards on 31 of 50 passing with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also became the first player since the NFL merger in 1970 to throw for 400 yards and rush for 60 yards in the same game.
In addition to the numbers, Cassel also led the Patriots on the game-tying drive in the fourth quarter, which culminated in a 16-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss with 1 second remaining.
"It was tough situation with no timeouts and having to go over half the football field," coach Bill Belichick said. "The offensive team did an outstanding job of really putting ourselves in position to where we could be throwing for the end zone in that last play, even though it was fourth down which made it a little bit more challenging.
"Had it been third down with eight seconds, we probably would have had time for two plays, but it was a good throw, good catch. (Cassel) was scrambling around, running out of the pocket; it was a good play."
Cassel's ability to scramble gives him a slight edge over Tom Brady in terms of speed. At first, he didn't come close to displaying the same pocket presence, but now he has closed the gap after playing for more than two months as an NFL starter.
"I think it is a little bit of the nature of the position - trying to get what you can and protect the ball," Belichick said. "I think he has done a good job of sliding. He has taken a few hits along the way that you would always like to see him avoid but sometimes that is part of the game. It is a contact sport.
"Against a team like the Jets that played a lot of man underneath coverage when the receivers run their routes and the guys chase him and the pass rushers get up the field, there is a lot of space there. Really, that is a good decision by Matt to see that, recognize it and he turns into the sixth receiver in those kinds of situations."
Cassel appears to have more say over what plays are called these days, though Belichick suggests he has always had confidence in his young quarterback.
"I think (the playbook) has been very open," Belichick said. "We've been doing what we do all year, whether Tom was in there or not in there in preseason. Then as Matt has taken the regular-season snaps, we've been running our offense all year.
"So I'm not really sure which plays you'd be referring to that we don't have, but we game plan each week for how we feel the best way to attack our opponent is and those are the plays that we put in and run. That's the way it's been all year, I don't really see that changing."
Why change anything? Cassel is doing fine. The rest of the team needs to catch up now that the Patriots are 6-4 with six games remaining to grab a playoff spot.
"(When) you go through a game like that, you look back at 20, 25, 30 plays. Any one of them could have made a little bit of a difference or maybe a big difference," Belichick said. "I think everybody feels probably about the same way this morning as they did (Thursday) night, that if I could have just done one thing differently or done one thing better or not done one thing or whatever. That's the way I feel. I'm sure that's the way all the players and assistant coaches feel."
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