Matt Cassel is the NFL equivalent of the GEICO caveman.
Winning twice as much as you lose while starting at quarterback for the New England Patriots? So easy even a Matt Cassel can do it.
On a planet loaded with humans eager to debunk and diminish the dimple-chinned brilliance of Tom Brady, Cassel has been a North Star for Brady loathers for over a decade.
For surface-level simpletons, he’s useful.
After Brady suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the 2008 opener, Cassel came in and led the Patriots to an 11-5 season and a first-place tie in the AFC East. They lost the division on a tiebreaker and were nosed out of the Wild Card. Still, though … 11-5 … pretty good, right?
And it wasn’t just that the Patriots were successful without Brady. They were successful WITH Cassel who hadn’t started a game since high school. What else do you need to know? The Patriots offense practically runs on autopilot.
Except … except for the fact the Patriots were 16-0 and on their way to 18-0 a year earlier (they finished 18-1 you may remember).
So while 11-5 may seem really impressive in a bubble, they actually lost 32 percent more frequently with Cassel at quarterback. They went from reeling off the most dominant 18-game stretch in NFL history to missing the playoffs. Context, people!
Anyway, Cassel himself was asked about being the trump card in the "Tom Brady Isn’t Good" debate on the Ross Tucker Football Podcast.
He understands why that one season in New England is the first thing people conjure when they hear his name.
“The thing about the 2008 season which sticks out for so many people was we were coming off the 18-1 year where we went to the Super Bowl and lost in dramatic fashion with the catch and everything else that happened,” Cassel recalled. “And the expectations were that we’d just go to the next level and then the MVP he goes down in the first quarter of the first game, the publicity and the media coverage of that one moment was so incredible.
“And my story of not starting a game since high school and people were saying, ‘Are they serious putting this kid in here. They need to go and get somebody.’ Then going out and being 11-5 – and we easily could have won another two games – and I came out of nowhere and people were amazed by that system and what we were able to accomplish without Tom it blew people’s minds. It’s obviously in a lot of people’s memories.”
But using it to diminish Brady’s excellence?
“The year that I played we had an unbelievable cast of characters: Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Jabar Gaffney, Ben Watson we had an amazing cast and that’s probably why he threw 50 touchdowns (in 2007). But if you look at the people around him through the years when they’re always rotating through receivers, he made those guys better.
“They bring guys in you haven’t heard of or guys whose careers people think are done and he somehow elevates their play to the next level and makes them better receivers and better players,” Cassel added. “That speaks to his greatness. People don’t realize he’s won Super Bowls with so many different receivers and not the Antonio Browns of the world, not the best receivers in the national football league.”
Cassel, who is unaffiliated at the moment and – at 37 – possibly done for good, added that there’s more to Brady’s excellence than wins and losses.
“If you just turn on the tape you’ll say, ‘Oh my God this guy’s special.’ And he is one of, he’s probably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game,” said Cassel. “It’s not just work ethic, it’s leadership ability and what he does in that locker room to get those guys ready to play. I’ve never been around anybody that has taught me more of how to prepare. He would get to the stadium three hours before the game just to go through the call sheet again which we already went through the night before twice. He’d be talking through reads, matchup issues … his preparation is matched by none.”
The “Yeah, but they went 11-5 with Cassel…” counterargument will never disappear, mainly because those that offer it up are too smooth-brained to think critically. But even Cassel knows that his 11-5 paled in comparison to what Brady did in 2007 or might have done in 2008.
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