Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Patriots finish off the Fins

Tom Brady may be out for the season, but the 2007 Patriots appear to be back in swing.

Led again by a scorching Matt Cassel, New England defeated Miami in a rematch, 48-28, putting them back atop the list of top AFC playoff contenders.

Furthermore, the victory kept the Patriots in contention in the competitive AFC East, while a loss meant a 6-5 record, another conference defeat and sinking to the near bottom of the division.

Cassel didn't let that happen, and this time, he used the services of one Randy Moss early and often. The first-year starter gunned for 415 yards, 125 to Moss, and three touchdowns, all to No. 81. Cassel also ran for a score, was sacked only twice (one of which he negated by throwing a first-down strike to Jabar Gaffney on the next play) and threw only one interception. Cassel even shined on the pick, throwing the ball right to the hands of Moss, who couldn't haul it in and allowed Jason Allen to come away with the interception.

But despite the prowess of the offense, which amassed 500 yards for the second straight game, the game didn't get comfortable until the very end, due to a defense that seemed determined to let the Dolphins stay close. The Patriots stopped the dreaded Wildcat offense, but fired blanks on everything else, allowing quarterback Chad Pennington to march down the field effortlessly and finish with four touchdowns - three throwing, one rushing.

The bad defense didn't rain on the Cassel parade. On the same field where Brady torched the Dolphins for six touchdown passes and a perfect 158.3 QB rating a year ago, Cassel looked every bit a worthy substitute, hitting Moss on a variety of patterns (catch and run, fade route and streak down the left side), helping two receivers (Moss and Wes Welker) reach 100 yards, and spreading the ball to six different receivers.

Most importantly, however, Cassel showed the leadership that has been the hallmark of Brady's career, following up all Miami touchdowns with scoring drives of his own, including two 80-plus-yard drives in the third and fourth quarters that resulted in the winning points.

The defense still has question marks - lots of them. But with Cassel playing as well as he is, Randy Moss finally involved and the team showing it still has the same old ability to buckle down and win a crucial game, it looks a lot better that the Patriots will continue to play meaningful games come January.

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