Players keep dropping for the New England Patriots, but Bill Belichick and company keep finding ways to meet the challenges.
A true team effort, led by yet another improved outing from Matt Cassel, got the Patriots their second straight victory, a 23-16 decision over the St. Louis Rams.
The stats don't show it, but Cassel played his best game of the season on Sunday. While the fourth-year player seemed to benefit from playing a simply inept Denver team on Monday, Cassel was forced by the Rams to make plays himself. He responded by showing Brady-esque pocket presence, sliding around and away from would-be tacklers to find playmaking receivers Randy Moss (seven catches, 102 yards) and Wes Welker (seven catches, 79 yards) downfield.
What does this mean? Belichick tempered a growing storm by insisting that Cassel gave the Patriots the best chance to win. On Sunday, Cassel proved his coach was right.
And while Cassel continues to prove why he belongs in the NFL, Belichick continues to prove why he is the best head coach in the league. After his injury-depleted squad defeated Denver, it was struck by the injury bug again when leading rushers Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan were inactive against the Rams, and starting cornerback Deltha O'Neal was hurt in game.
No running back, no problem. Belichick guided his team to a smooth, penalty-free and mistake-free effort. Now, the Patriots are thinking as a team, playing as a team, and have a 5-2 record and first place in the AFC East to show for it.
"Like I told the team after the game, this is a good example of having to play 60 minutes like we always have to do in this league," Belichick said. "Those guys really stepped up and made some big plays in the fourth quarter. I am really proud of them."
As Patriots fans, so are we.