The New England Patriots approached their first preseason game in their own unique manner. An extended practice on Tuesday with the Redskins served as the starters’ preseason game as many of the players expected to suit up in week one were standing and watching on the sidelines on Thursday night. Quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Darrelle Revis both were dressed and on the sidelines but did not play in preseason game one.
The key story coming out of game one was the struggles of backup quarterback Ryan Mallett and the coronation of third-string quarterback and 2014 second-round draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo. In the instant analysis of social media Mallett was declared a bum who should be released immediately and Garoppolo is the obvious heir to Brady. While this may bear out, it is hard to base team decisions based on a single preseason game.
In fact, in the week leading up to the first preseason game the news coming out of the shared camp with the Redskins was that Garoppolo was over-matched and looked terrible while NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock was reporting how well Mallett was looking against the Redskins top defense. That story did a complete flip as the talking heads and media forgot about the week of practice and focused only on the first preseason game.
The game and reaction stirred up memories from the past and reminded me of the 2008 preseason. Most readers will not remember that in the 2008 preseason quarterback Tom Brady did not play a single snap in any game due to an ankle injury. His first playing time in 2008 just happened to be game one of the regular season when he was knocked out for the season by then Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard with a hit to his knee. The Patriots brought in their seldom-used second-string quarterback Matt Cassel. No doubt, as the viewers in Patriots Nation cringed at the thought there were likely doubts in the minds of the coaching staff as well.
To say that Cassel struggled in the preseason in 2008 is an understatement. At the beginning of the season many were wondering if Cassel would make the 53-man roster due to his terrible preseason. Here is a quick breakdown of Cassel in 2008 before the season:
Cassel was 1-4 for 11 yards with an interception and a fumble in three drives. Final tally: a three-and-out; a pick, and a fumble when sacked on the one drive on which he had gained a first down.
Cassel was 6-10 for 57 yards. He had a near interception on the first drive (a three-and-out). He followed up with a drive ending on a Wes Welker fumble and finally got the team into field goal range (barely, it was a 53-yard kick) in the two-minute drill to end the half. He opened the second half fumbling the snap to turn it over and then another three-and-out.
Another struggle for Cassel who went 8-14 for 60 yards. Backup Matt Gutierrez threw for over 200 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cassel led two three-and-outs and his memorable play was a 22-yard scramble. A 47-yard pass interference call (drawn by Randy Moss, of course) set-up the only score (another field goal)
Cassel closed the preseason struggling mightily again as he went 4-6 for 37 yards. Cassel was in for two drives, had two first downs, and the first team offense ended up punting each time. Matt Gutierrez again was the best quarterback for the Patriots that game as New England closed out the preseason with yet another loss finishing 0-4.
Complete Preseason Statistics for New England Patriots quarterbacks for 2008 (Stats from Patriots.com):
Cassel went on to replace Brady in game one and complete 13 of 18 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown putting up a 116.0 quarterback rating for the game. Cassel certainly never became a star, but he has been a serviceable quarterback the last five years and is likely to start in Minnesota this year. That said, certain bloggers in 2008 were not a believer in Cassel and actively calling for Kevin O’Connell at late in the season as November:
The Patriots went on to win 11 games with Cassel under center winning their last 4 games, 5 of their last 6, and 8 of their last 11 to end the season as one of the hottest teams in football. They topped 40 points in 4 games with Cassel under center. Cassel finished with 3,693 yards passing, 21 touchdowns, only 11 interceptions, a 63.4% completion percentage and an 89.4 quarterback rating.
Had New England made the playoffs instead of being on the outside looking in as they finished second to Miami in the AFC East due to a tiebreaker, Cassel may have made some noise in the postseason considering how the team was playing.
No one is hoping to see a repeat of 2008 and all of New England is hoping to see Brady under center for all 16 games again. However, based on 2008 there may not be need to panic. Mallet-even with his poor performance on Thursday night–has been better than Cassel was in the 2008 preseason. Cassel showed that preseason stats are not the only guideline head coach Bill Belichick is using to grade his backup quarterbacks.
That said, some improvement in the next preseason game by Mallet would be most welcome.