FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -Text messages and voice mails poured into Matt Cassel's cell phone after he replaced an injured Tom Brady in the Patriots' season opener.
The quarterback who hadn't started a game in nine years had stepped in for the NFL MVP who hadn't missed one in almost seven full seasons.
Those messages began arriving even before some senders knew that Brady's knee injury would bring both those streaks to an end.
``I became a lot more popular after Sunday's game. There's no doubt about,'' Cassel said with a smile Thursday. ``I think I had around 150 text messages, and half the numbers I don't even know.''
Normally, only one person would leave a message on game days.
``My mom,'' he said.
It will be a big day in the athletic Cassel clan - one brother pitches for the Houston Astros, another in the Chicago White Sox system - when Matt makes his first football start since November 1999 when he was a senior at Chatsworth High School in the Los Angeles area.
Jets and Brett Favre, who has the NFL's longest starting streak of all time, after backing up Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart for two years each at Southern California and two-time Super Bowl MVP Brady for the past three years.
Cassel doesn't think it will matter much that he hasn't started since before Bill Belichick won his first Super Bowl as coach of the Patriots in the 2001 season.
``To me, it really doesn't make a huge difference,'' said Cassel, who did start all four exhibition games. ``We've been training, and the coaches get us prepared week in and week out. And if the coaching staff didn't believe that I could execute the offense I wouldn't be here right now.''
He threw just 33 passes in four years at USC and 39 in his first three with the Patriots. But he's learned from being an understudy to some special quarterbacks.
``You just kind of fall into that role and you continue to work hard,'' said Cassel, who went 13-for-18 for 152 yards and one touchdown after taking over for Brady midway through the first quarter of last Sunday's 17-10 win over Kansas City.
``You learn a lot from these different quarterbacks, from Carson, from Leinart and from Tom, especially, over these last four years and you start to take little bits and pieces from each of their games and try to use that in your game and try to get better.''
tball and ignore the distractions.
There could be many, from the attention he receives - ``All right!'' he said as he approached a crowd of reporters waiting to interview him - to the job of replacing a star to the doubters who say the Patriots won't make the playoffs without Brady.
``There's going to be a lot of people that make predictions on the outside and you can't do anything to control it,'' Cassel said. ``Nobody can foresee the future and nobody can say we're going to win 15 games or lose 15 games or do whatever.''
He said he tries to avoid distractions by avoiding newspaper stories and television reports. But he responded when one reporter asked what he thought of Jets fans who cheered when Brady was injured.
``I just can't understand for the life of me why people would cheer when somebody gets hurt,'' he said, ``but I guess that's the sick world sometimes that we are in.''
Cassel's teammates say they can't lament the loss of Brady, they just have to move on behind a new leader.
``He's really a funny guy,'' running back Sammy Morris said. ``He's pretty loose and that shows itself in a huddle. He's as relaxed as possibly can be.''
That will be put to the test Sunday when he takes the his team's first offensive snap in a game since the last century.
heavily on its running game. The Patriots, with Morris, Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk and LaMont Jordan to carry the ball, could emphasize the ground game to take the burden off Cassel.
``We can't look back and hope and wish and do those things that a lot of other people are doing,'' Cassel said. ``We have to move on and we have to get ready for this week.''
He didn't expect to be drafted after playing so little in college. But he didn't think it would take so long for him to start after leaving high school.
``It really hasn't been that big of a struggle for me,'' Cassel said. ``It's just going and get your work done and get ready when that opportunity comes. And it's here now.''

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