Not until Plaxico Burress cradled Eli Manning’s pass in the end zone with 35 seconds left in the Super Bowl did the Patriots dream of winning their fourth Super Bowl in seven seasons and going 19-0 go up in smoke.
This year, the dream died a lot sooner. Seven minutes and 24 seconds into their season opener, the one player the team of this decade couldn’t afford to lose was lost. When Tom Brady’s left knee bent until his anterior cruciate ligament gave way, pop went the Patriots season.
In New England this morning, ACL stands for A Crushing Loss. Elsewhere? It means A Conference Leveler. With Brady done for the season, the void at the top now opens.
Where does this leave the Patriots? And what does this mean for the rest of the NFL?
Be assured of this, even if pity were coming their way (which it probably isn’t), the Patriots won’t want it. In October 2005 after a loss to San Diego, then-Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer made a benign comment about the Patriots having sustained too many injuries to be expected to play at their accustomed level.
“We won three of the last four Super Bowls and I think we realize what we’re all about,” Brady snapped the day after that loss. “We realize the character and toughness of this team. If people want to write us off, that’s fine by us — go for it — but I don’t think that's the wisest thing to do. I think we have too many guys with too much character. I just assumed you talk about your own team. You don’t talk about our team. He has no business talking about our team. He’s not our coach. We’ll let our coach talk about our team. We’ll let our players talk about our team.”
For a team that appeared lost throughout the preseason, that seemed to have a hard time getting its shoulder against the rock they had to push back up the hill in 2008, this will galvanize them.
With a game against the hated Jets next Sunday, the Patriots will all be reading off the same cue cards this week. It will be all about team, team, team and the need for every player to do his job and not wallow.
Matt Cassel isn’t one of those backup quarterbacks who could be starting for other franchises. He’s jumpy in the pocket, rushes throws and — after developing quickly in his first and second years in the league — has regressed. Maybe it’s the company he’s been keeping in all those preseason games throwing to backups and he’ll flourish throwing to the likes of Randy Moss and Wes Welker and handing off to Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris. Maybe.
The Patriots and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel will put Cassel in positions to succeed, game-planning away from his weaknesses. But teams — beginning with the Jets — will work to put Cassel in positions to win games for New England. He can expect to see the box jammed to stifle the Patriots running attack, daring him to beat them with his arm and head the way Brady would. He won’t kill the Patriots. But when you go from starting the best quarterback in the league to perhaps the 50th best quarterback, the results will be different.
PFT: Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith said the draft process taught him an important lesson on taking criticism.
Y! Sports: Redskins fans found what appeared to be the wedding registry for Robert Griffin III and fiancee Rebecca Liddicoat, and they helped out their star QB.
Sound off on SNF: Week 1
Sept. 7: Tiki Barber and Jerome Bettis debate whether or not the Patriots can win the division.
2013 SNF Schedule
Check out the 2013 Sunday Night Football schedule.
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