FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -The doomsayers ignored one huge factor when they predicted Tom Brady's absence would ruin the Patriots' playoff hopes: They're a strong team even without him.
New England won three of the last seven Super Bowls. It lost the last one on a touchdown in the final minute. It had the fourth stingiest defense in the NFL last season.
That defense, plus the special teams and the Matt Cassel-led offense, put together a complete team victory - minus Brady, of course - when the Patriots ruined Brett Favre's home debut with the New York Jets with a 19-10 win Sunday.
On defense, they sacked Favre twice and held the Jets to 256 yards, 32 less than the average yardage New England gave up last season. And Brandon Meriweather's first career interception set up the Patriots' touchdown.
On special teams, Kevin Faulk returned three punts into New York territory, Chris Hanson kicked one punt out of bounds and two others for touchbacks, and Stephen Gostkowski was 4-for-4 on field goals.
, might not have been any more rewarding than if he had played.
``It's rewarding to win any game in this league,'' coach Bill Belichick said Monday. ``You can't win a game on one or two plays. You've got to make probably well over 100 in one way or another.''
After Brady sustained a season-ending knee injury in the opening 17-10 win over Kansas City, oddsmakers downgraded the Patriots chances of winning the Super Bowl. With a quarterback who hadn't started since high school replacing a two-time Super Bowl MVP and last season's NFL MVP, their prospects certainly dimmed.
``With the great player that Tom is and a lot of the wins that he helped produce around here, it's only natural for someone to think like that, and you can't blame there,'' defensive end Ty Warren said. ``But you've still got to show up and play.''
So Patriots players didn't take a woe-is-us stance by dwelling on their missing leader and expressed confidence in Cassel.
He lived up to that faith on Sunday when he fulfilled his primary role: to manage the game wisely and avoid mistakes. He converted two big passes for first downs in the fourth quarter - one to Sammy Morris on third down and one to Wes Welker on fourth.
the game and I think he did a great job of managing that.''
The Patriots led just 6-0 in the second quarter when the Jets had a first down at the New England 3-yard line. Three plays netted no yards and New York settled for a field goal against a defense that was overshadowed last season by the highest scoring offense in NFL history.
The Patriots have allowed just 20 points in two games.
``It's not bad, but it's 20 points,'' Warren said. ``So there's improvement to be done.''
With the Jets guarding against the deep pass to Randy Moss and the Patriots focusing on short, safe passes by an untested quarterback, Cassel completed 16 of 23 passes for 165 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
Favre, in the midst of the longest starting streak by a quarterback in NFL history, went 18-for-26 for 181 yards with one touchdown and one interception - and a poorer quarterback rating than Cassel.
Did his teammates rally around Cassel?
``He has a job to do,'' said running back LaMont Jordan, in his first year with New England. ``We rally around the team. After all these years of playing against the Patriots, I wondered why they are so good. Being a Patriot, I realize what it is; the total team effort. Just get your job done, and it comes from the head coach.''
dan, Faulk and Sammy Morris kept the ground game going.
That took pressure off Cassel to have to move the ball through the air.
``I think our depth in the backfield paid off for us in that game,'' Belichick said.
On Sunday, Cassel will face the Miami Dolphins in his second start since backing up Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at Southern California for two years each and Brady for three years. So far he's 2-0, the same record Brady had in each of the last two seasons.
``When you win a division game on the road, that's a big win and I think that's good for Matt, it's good for our football team and it's good for everybody,'' Belichick said.
But it may take a few more wins to convince critics who still doubt the Brady-less Patriots.
``We showed that we were better than the Jets on that one day, at 4:15 (Sunday) afternoon,'' Belichick said. ``I don't think that has anything to do with the Miami game. So it will be a new challenge this week.''

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