The 2008 NFL season had barely even started when everything got turned on it's head, and it all began with the season-ending knee injury suffered by Tom Brady. For a team who was minutes away from capturing the first 19-0 season in NFL history, there was a lot of incentive to get back to work and prove that their Super Bowl loss was a fluke. And now they're looking at trying to do it without the reigning NFL MVP.
With Brady gone, a lot of people, both writers and fans, are already writing off the Patriots. Some have gone so far as to say that Brady's injury will show Belichick to be a lesser coach because he's been carried by Brady. Those same reporters seem to forget that it was almost seven years ago that all-Pro and “Face of the Franchise” Drew Bledsoe was knocked out of a Week 2 game with a shorn artery, thrusting a young and unproven Tom Brady into the spotlight. Brady had split time with Drew Henson at Michigan, but was drafted in the 6th round of the 2000 Draft and had spent the 2000 season as the #4 QB on the Patriots depth chart. However, he was then broken into the system in place by Belichick and the coaching staff, and helped guide the Patriots to their first Super Bowl win. Back then, Brady was not the focus of that team like he had become today, but he was asked to manage the game and not make mistakes. In fact, it wasn't until that final drive of the Super Bowl that he was asked to do something special.
Fast forward seven years, and an injury to all-Pro and “Face of the Franchise” Tom Brady has now thrust Matt Cassel into the spotlight. Much like Brady, Cassel has not spent much time in the spotlight to this point. Cassel spent his college career backing up a couple of Heisman winners at USC: Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. Never having been called upon to start a game at USC, the Patriots took a waiver on Cassel in the 7th round of the 2005 Draft, where he's moved up the depth chart, displacing several veterans, to assume the spot as Brady's backup.
How will the story play out this time around? I have no idea, but you can be sure that the Patriot's coaching staff will do no more than ask Cassel to manage the game and let the talent around him shine. For those of you with a pipe dream that the Patriots won't be contenders this year without Brady, you obviously haven't learned your lessons yet…
Biggest Week 1 Surprises:
- Bills Bully Seahawks – While Buffalo is always a difficult place to go into and play, even in September, I didn't expect the Seahawks to get absolutely spanked by the Bills. Perhaps the NFC West race will be tighter than expected.
- Falcons Run Roughshod Over Lions – Yes, I know…the Lions are no defensive mennace, but Atlanta was lost on every side of the ball last year. Their defense is still a bit suspect, but Matt Ryan and Michael Turner look like they're injecting some new life into the Red & Black, and the franchise is finally putting Mike Vick behind them.
- Steelers Dismantle Texans – The Texans have been steadily improving over the years and adding more talent on both sides of the ball. However, that didn't show on Sunday as the Steelers moved the ball at will and turned the game over to the backups in the 4th quarter.
Biggest Week 1 Disappointments:
- St. Louis Awarded New Pop Warner Team – After letting McNabb dismantle their defense, maybe the Rams should let the kids play in their place.
- Browns Defensive Problems Resurface – Thought to push the Steelers for the division again, the Browns defense was as solid as a sieve against the Cowboys' potent offense.
- Raiders Continue to Overpay Scouts – Never have I seen a team make so many bad personnel decisions. Gibril Wilson was overpaid following being a member of the Giants Super Bowl team, and former Falcon “shut down” corner DeAngelo Hall was constantly thrown at by Jay Cutler and the Broncos' passing game. On top of that, JaMarcus Russell has looked awful at every opportunity he's gotten (maybe they're trying to make San Francisco feel better about taking Alex Smith?), and it's clear that not enough has been invested in the offensive and defensive lines.
- New AFC “Favorites” Lay Eggs – Both San Diego and Indy went out and lost to NFC middle-of-the-pack teams they should have beaten. Way to step up to the plate guys.