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Contemplating How to Storm Patriots' Cassel


It's the word Brett Favre used when asked if it will be strange not seeing Tom Brady on Sunday when the Jets and the Patriots resume pleasantries. While different, it's impossible to determine how effective the Pats' Matt Cassel-led offense will be in the Jets' home opener at the Meadowlands.

"I think anytime you're not facing Tom Brady, it gives you a better chance," Favre said at his news conference today. "I'm just giving him the respect he deserves. The guy has been outstanding, as good as anyone that's ever played the game.

"Matt Cassel played great the other day when he came in. They assume he will do that, but Tom Brady is Tom Brady. So that does give us a better chance."

Cassel's rookie season was Eric Mangini's final season in New England. Over his first four campaigns, Cassel has completed 35 passes in mostly mop-up duty and has three NFL touchdown passes.

"He's very similar to what I've experienced with a lot of the quarterbacks in terms of the way he approaches things, how disciplined he is and how much he studies," Mangini said. "He has a strong arm and he can make plays with his feet. I think he'll do a really, really good job."

Patriots wideout Randy Moss says "the show must go on" and Cassel's teammates "are going to have to step it up a notch."

Moss, who had a league-record 23 touchdown receptions last season, all from Brady, is frank about the newness of the situation with his new signalcaller.

"There's not really a comfort level because I haven't had the chance to work with Cassel or him work with the first team," said the star receiver during a conference call. "I can't really say myself. I think it's more of him working with the first team and I don't think he's really experienced much of that."

Cassel, a seventh-round pick from Southern Cal in 2005, backed up both Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart for the Men of Troy. He attempted only 33 passes at SC and one of his top college accomplishments was capturing the Howard Jones/Football Alumni Club Academic Award as a junior with the highest grade-point average for an upperclassmen.

"The most important thing about Matt is what he's done since he's been here," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick today. "I think you can look at a lot of players and what they did in college or didn't do in college and that may or may not be relevant to what they do at this level or with certain teams in the National Football League.

"He's been here four years. He's taken a lot of plays this year in training camp, preseason games and the opener. I put a lot more stock in what he's done since he's been here than what he's done somewhere else."

When Brady went down midway through the first quarter last week against the Chiefs, the Patriots were immediately handed tremendous adversity to start their season.

"I was actually happy the way our team responded — not just Cassel. It was like taking the helium out of the balloon," Moss said. "When Tom went down, everything got quiet. Guys were looking at each other on the sideline with the deer-in-the-headlights eyes and you just could really see that everybody was kind of stuck in the moment, like 'Is this really happening?' "

But Cassel completed 72 percent of his passes in relief and the Patriots gutted out the 17-10 victory. His first drive as "the guy" ended with a touchdown to Moss.

"From a team standpoint and a coaching standpoint, we pulled together knowing Tom got hurt, he limped off the field, and we didn't really know his status," Moss said. "So I think not just being impressed with Cassel's performance, being impressed by a whole team performance that we were able to overcome our leader being down, our leader getting hurt and being able to come up with a victory."

The Jets know better than to relax against an unproven quarterback. Last September, Buffalo started a young rookie against the Green & White. He displayed poise and efficiency while leading his team to a low-scoring win.

"Trent Edwards came out and had a pretty good game against us," S Kerry Rhodes reminded reporters. "You can't count any guy out."

You can count Brady out for this one, but Cassel is a great unknown. He's taking the place of one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and this start — his first since high school — will be in the friendly confines of the Meadowlands.

"There are some definite things that are different about Matt and Tom stylistically," Mangini said. "The system, I think, is going to remain consistent. The weapons he has available are consistent, but how he goes through his whole operation is going to unfold here. Some of that we're going to have to adjust to as the game goes on."

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