He may not be Tom Brady, but Matt Cassel may have a lot in common with the injured Patriots star. Neither were highly touted quarterbacks in their draft classes, though Brady did start at Michigan, while Cassel paced the sidelines at USC. New England selected Tom Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft, and 5 years later, they took Cassel in the seventh. Chad Pennington was the first quarterback taken in 2000, selected by the New York Jets, and the only QB to go in the first round. Also consider that with Brady waiting, Giovanni Carmazzi and Chris Redman were third round choices. 2005 saw Jason Campbell and Aaron Rodgers plucked off the board in round one, but Alex Smith went No. 1 overall. The first Trojan off the board was Mike Williams, selected 10th by the Detroit Lions, and 220 spots later, New England chose Matt Cassel.
Tom Brady took the NFL by storm, after replacing the injured Drew Bledsoe. Matt Cassel took on an NFL full of doubt, as the unlikely starter wasn’t even probable for the 2008 Patriots roster. Cassel is in the final year of his rookie contract, and New England brought competition into the preseason camp, with many believing Matt Gutierrez would win the replacement job and Cassel would be cut or dealt to another franchise. He survived, and with each passing week he silences the doubters and ensures the Patriots management that they made the right choice.
On Thursday night, Matt Cassel didn’t command the New England offense, he single handedly became it. Against the Jets, he passed for a career high 400 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. He added another 62 yards on the ground to lead his team in rushing. And in a display of growth, he rallied and led his teammates downfield, with less than 2 minutes remaining, for a tying score that sent the game into overtime. New York won the toss and eventually prevailed 34-31 on a game winning field goal, but the night belonged to the rising star from USC. Playing opposite the legendary Brett Favre, the Thursday night audience watched a quarterback of the future shine brighter.
Cassel may not have been worth much before the season began, but by season’s end, there will be a pot of gold waiting on the other end of the rainbow.