Matt Cassel steps in at quarterback Sunday for the Patriots, who will play their first game without Tom Brady in nearly seven years when they visit Brett Favre and the AFC East rival Jets.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made New York -1.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 47% of bets for this game have been placed on New York -1.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Since taking over as New England's starter in 2001, Brady has become the face of the franchise, and arguably of the league. He led the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles in five years, won NFL MVP honors in 2007 after throwing a record 50 touchdown passes and going 16-0 in the regular season, and started 128 consecutive games.
That streak will now come to an end. Midway through the first quarter of last week's opener against Kansas City, Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury on a hit from Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard.
"He's the face of the New England Patriots, and Tom being who he is it kind of hurts, to be honest with you,'' said Randy Moss, who caught 23 of Brady's TD passes in 2007, also a record. "I know the show must go on. Hopefully Matt Cassel is ready to step in. I know the team is ready to embrace him and let him lead us.''
Cassel stepped in adequately for Brady against the Chiefs, completing 13 of 18 passes - including a 10-yard touchdown to Moss - for 152 yards as the Patriots held on for a 17-10 win, their league-high 20th consecutive regular-season victory.
If they are to extend the streak to 21, the inexperienced Cassel must be ready to lead. A seventh-round draft pick in 2005, Cassel backed up star quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at USC, and has not started a game that counted since 1999, when he was a senior at Chatsworth High School in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley.
Ironically, Brady's remarkable run began under similar circumstances. In Week 2 of the 2001 season, veteran New England starter Drew Bledsoe wound up in the hospital with a chest injury after a violent collision with Jets linebacker Mo Lewis. Brady took over the following week, led the Patriots to their first championship and never relinquished the job.
"Everybody here understands that things like this happen; they've happened before,'' New England offensive lineman Matt Light said. "I feel good about this football team.''
If Cassel were to go down, the only other quarterbacks on the Patriots' roster are rookie Kevin O'Connell - a sixth-round draft choice from San Diego State - and possibly Matt Gutierrez, a second-year player New England re-signed to the practice squad Wednesday after cutting him during training camp.
"I'm not trying to be Tom Brady. I'm just trying to be Matt Cassel,'' the new starting QB said when subbing for Brady on his weekly radio show. "I don't know where that's going to take us.''
With Brady out of the picture, the Jets may have even higher hopes for where Favre could take them. The 38-year-old legend, who started an NFL-record 253 consecutive games for Green Bay before making his Jets debut last week, finished 15-for-22 for 194 yards and two TDs to lead his new team to a 20-14 season-opening victory over Miami - the NFL-record 161st win of his career.
"I know I made the right decision,'' said Favre, whose retirement and subsequent return led to an acrimonious departure from the Packers in a trade Aug. 6. "I'm a New York Jet. I don't know about a native New Yorkian, or however you say it. Hey, I'm happy to be a Jet.''
Jerricho Cotchery is also happy Favre is a Jet. The wideout scored only two touchdowns in 2007 as New York finished 4-12, but found the end zone on the second possession of 2008 when Favre hit him in stride for 56 yards.
"After working with him for a month, nothing surprises me about the guy,'' Cotchery said.
Though not nearly of the same consequence as Brady's injury, the Jets will also look to a replacement to score points for them Sunday. New York signed veteran kicker Jay Feely this week to fill in for Mike Nugent, who injured his right thigh on a kickoff against the Dolphins.
Feely, who Kansas City cut in training camp, has a career 80.8 field-goal percentage and went 21-for-23 with Miami last season.
The Jets are seeking their first 2-0 start since 2004, when they won their first five games.
They'll also be trying to snap a seven-game home losing streak to the Patriots. New York has not defeated New England at the Meadowlands since a 20-19 win on Sept. 11, 2000, when Brady was the Patriots' fourth-string quarterback and Bill Belichick was in his first season coaching the team.
Favre is 3-2 versus New England, including a 35-21 Super Bowl victory for the Packers on Jan. 26, 1997.
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