The New England Patriots have done more than simply survive with their franchise quarterback on injured reserve. They've thrived thanks to the recent superb play of backup Matt Cassel, who has filled in more than admirably for injured superstar Tom Brady.
Cassel threw for more than 400 yards for the second consecutive game Sunday as the Patriots trounced Miami 48-28 in a pivotal AFC East showdown. The win kept the Patriots alive in the hunt for a playoff berth and pushed Miami to the brink with only five games remaining.
Quarterback controversy? Hardly, but Cassel has done more than help his own cause as he heads into free agency this winter. With the way he's played the past six weeks, there's little doubt Cassel will get a significant pay raise from whichever team signs him during the offseason.
Cassel became just the fifth quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to throw for more than 400 yards in back-to-back games, joining Dan Fouts, Dan Marino, Phil Simms and Billy Volek.
"I'm happy about it, no doubt," Cassel said. "I did not know that at all, but that's a pretty cool stat. That's a pretty good crew to be with."
If, by some chance, the Patriots don't make the playoffs, they can't blame the loss of Brady. Cassel has been more than adequate, while the defense has failed to live up to expectations. The former backup from USC led the team to a come-from-behind last month against St. Louis and has now established his own niche as a quarterback who remains cool under pressure with the game on the line.
"He's playing some hellified ball and stepping up, and we're behind him," wide receiver Randy Moss said. "He's getting a feel for the other 10 of us, and we're getting a feel of how Matt's playing."
The chemistry issues that plagued the offense earlier in the season are a thing of the past. The Patriots are now second in the AFC in points scored after 11 games.
"He's done a great job of just guiding the offense and really understanding the defenses and what they are trying to do to us and being able to attack them," wide receiver Wes Welker said.
Added Jabar Gaffney: "Matt's coming into his own. He's starting to play with that confidence. We spread 'em out with four receivers, and he got us something good out of it."
--The Patriots might be without LT Matt Light next weekend after the veteran All-Pro got ejected Sunday for his role in a fight with Dolphins LB Channing Crowder.
Light didn't comment after the game, but fellow linemate Logan Mankins expressed pride for Light's ability to stick up for himself following the scuffle.
"He was doing a good job, drilling him right in the head," Mankins said of Light, "so kudos to Matt."
--S Brandon Meriweather continues to emerge as a legitimate ball-hawk in the New England secondary.
Meriweather's interception with 8:35 to go -- his fourth of the season -- on a pass intended for Greg Camarillo sealed the win for the Patriots. Meriweather thanked the pass rush for making it all possible.
"The line got a good push on them," Meriweather said, "and it made (Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington) throw the ball a little high and it gave me the opportunity to catch it."
--The Patriots had no answer for the AFC's sack leader, Joey Porter, in the Week 3 showdown against Miami, as the veteran linebacker sacked Matt Cassel three times following a week in which he talked trash about the New England backup.
This time, the Patriots held Porter in check, and Porter let out his frustration with two unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties in the final three minutes of Sunday's rematch.
"That's just Porter being Porter and not shutting up," Mankins said. "He kept running his mouth and kept getting warned for it. He finally said some stuff the officials didn't like."
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