What We Learned: Patriots-Jets
EAST RUTHEFORD, N.J. -- New quarterback, same result for New England. The Pats punished the Jets with a familiar cocktail of special teams and defense, and any New England QB from Steve Grogan to Tony Eason to Scott Zolak could have steered the offense in their 19-10 win on Sunday.
Matt Cassel's ballyhooed debut didn't deliver many fireworks, but the Patriots are 2-0 and once again appear to be in control of the AFC East. Let's take a closer look at what we know about New England and New York in the post-Brady era.
1. Matt Cassel is no Tom Brady. Cassel looked great on quick-strike short passes but didn't have one successful long pass. Part of that was New England's gameplan, part was Cassel's inaccuracy on his first few attempts downfield. The Jets defense started sneaking closer to the line throughout the game, setting up what would have been several big plays for Brady. Cassel, however, couldn't capitalize on one-on-one coverage with his receivers. One time, Randy Moss beat his man by a good 15 yards and Cassel drastically under threw him for an incompletion.
The Patriots didn't need the vertical threat against the Jets on Sunday. They certainly will need to add that dimension to their offense moving forward. Opposing defensive coordinators are going to tear this game tape apart and will try to take advantage if they feel Cassel can't stretch the field.
This was Cassel's first start since high school, so he very well could settle down in the pocket and start hitting longer passes. The Pats coaching staff has said he has the arm strength to make the throws he needs to in this offense, so perhaps Sunday's struggles downfield were more about comfort than his ability.
2. The Pats are motivated by the Brady injury. "All you haters keep hatin', we're comin," Moss said after the game. New England coach Bill Belichick probably convinced his team that every NFL expert in the country expected the Patriots to lose today, and they had a pretty big chip on their shoulder.
For a team that has won 21 straight regular-season games, the Patriots have a knack for acting like an underdog, and that's one of the reasons why they're so good. They can probably ride the post-Brady injury comments until December.
3. We all need to keep a close eye on Moss. Cassel only looked Moss's way three times on Sunday. Two catches for 22 yards and the underthrown long ball that would have been an easy touchdown. Early in the game, Moss was high-fiving his QB and being good teammate Randy. For a big part of the second half, Moss sat alone at the end of the bench and his body language changed dramatically. He seemed a lot less interested in the game when he realized Cassel wasn't going to find him downfield.
To be fair, Moss had only glowing things to say about Cassel after the game. Moss is such an emotional player, the Pats coaching staff may have to try a little harder to keep him mentally involved, if they continue to play so conservatively on offense.
4. The Jets will be better with Brett Favre. We saw the best and the worst of Brett Favre on Sunday -- scrambling and throwing across his body for long gains and lofting an unnecessary interception at a crucial time. That's what Favre does, take shots. He just has to be smart about it and he will most of the time.
"I got a little greedy," Favre said of the interception. "I could have dumped it in the flat ... I think if I had made the throw I wanted to, there's no guarantee it would have been caught, but it would have been a much better opportunity. I just underthrew him."
The one big positive was his ability to hold off a Patriots pass rush that usually tortures the Jets. Even though Favre was sacked twice, New England wasn't able to get the kind of consistent pressure it used to get on Chad Pennington.
Favre gets rid of the ball quicker and is very effective when he moves his feet. And the Jets' revamped offensive line did a much better job than a unit that looked overwhelmed against the Patriots last year. New York's QBs were sacked 53 times last year. Expect that number to come down dramatically with Favre under center.
5. Bill Belichik out-coached Eric Mangini. Once again, the master knocked off the pupil. Darth Vader Belichick had the perfect gameplan for a first-time starting quarterback and was able to keep Favre and the Jets offense off-balance.
Mangini has been criticized for being too conservative offensively this season. Expect to hear a lot more of that after Sunday's game. With first-and-goal from the 3-yard line in the first quarter, New York gave the ball to Thomas Jones three straight times for a total of zero yards.
"We had been running the ball very well and liked our opportunity there," Mangini said. "We thought that was our best chance at that point."
Favre has two games under his belt, so it's probably time for Mangini to take off the training wheels, especially in the red zone. Favre was at his best running a rhythm-passing game last year in Green Bay and will likely fare better with more attempts as the season continues.
Sartorially, Cassel isn't in the same league as Brady. Cassel showed up at the postgame press conference with his collar sticking out of a suit that looked like it came from the bargain rack at Men's Wearhouse.
Belichick never says anything, but he did look happy in that sneaky Belichick way after the game. Lots of people have wondered if Belichick could win without Brady. Not only did he do that, he made a coach he hates look bad in the process.
The Pats put an interesting twist on the fake punt. After a timeout, their offense came out on 4th-and-1 at the Jets' 49. Right before the snap, the punt unit ran on, leaving the Jets to scramble back to cover the kick. New England's' Chris Hanson booted it into the end zone anyway.