FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -Matt Cassel lofted a very Brady-like pass just over the defender and into the arms of Kevin Faulk at the edge of the end zone.
The placement was perfect. The touchdown capped a Patriots comeback. The quarterback did what his teammates knew he could do.
``Matt's arm's always been great and he's extremely accurate,'' New England fullback Heath Evans said Monday, the day after a 23-16 win over the St. Louis Rams. ``It's just been him getting more comfortable with everybody around him and more comfortable with the play calling.''
Cassel's skills, hidden from public view for seven seasons as a backup who never started with Southern California or New England, are now on display. In seven games since Tom Brady sustained a season-ending knee injury in the opener, Cassel has gotten more consistent.
After compiling his lowest passer rating of the season in a 30-10 loss at San Diego, he had two solid games.
the Denver Broncos - three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 75 percent completion rate. Then he threw for a career-high 267 yards against St. Louis, the last 15 coming on his scoring pass to Faulk, who was closely guarded by linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa.
``He's just growing in front of our eyes,'' wide receiver Kelley Washington said.
Like Brady, Cassel was cool as the Patriots completed their comeback from a 16-13 deficit in the final nine minutes Sunday.
``I really wasn't worried about the situation other than the fact that I knew we had to score,'' he said. ``I wasn't trying to press.''
The Patriots are 5-2 and back in first place in the AFC East, tied with Buffalo. In Brady's first two seasons as a starter, they were 3-4 after seven games.
Brady has 28 comeback victories in seven seasons in games in which the Patriots trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter. Sunday's was Cassel's first, but he did go 4-for-4 for 49 yards on the decisive drive.
``We work on those things every week,'' coach Bill Belichick said. ``It is great that Matt did that. I hope we are not in that situation every week though.''
Cassel succeeded Sunday despite a rash of injuries to key offensive players.
ng the first five following shoulder and knee injuries.
Cassel showed an ability to run when his protection broke down or he didn't spot open receivers.
``Matt saved us on a few of those,'' Belichick said. ``He ran three or four times where he scrambled out and got positive yards. So those were plays that could have potentially been losses, balls that weren't thrown.''
Cassel picked up 22 yards on seven carries and has rushed for 81 yards this season. Brady's best for a full season was 110 in 2002.
``Matt is really progressing in all areas,'' Belichick said, ``his decision-making, his read in coverages, his pocket presence.''
The Patriots also overcame injuries that have tested the depth of the secondary. Safety Rodney Harrison is out for the season, cornerback Deltha O'Neal missed most of the game after suffering a head injury in the first quarter and cornerback Ellis Hobbs left with a shoulder injury in the fourth.
And they accomplished something for the first time in their history: no penalties that were accepted by an opponent.
``By not having penalties on offense, you continue to convert on third down,'' linebacker Mike Vrabel said. ``You've got third and short, and Matt did a great job stepping up in the pocket and making some great throws.''
f them. And his sacks were down to three from a total of six against Denver.
He's also getting more comfortable with receivers Welker and Randy Moss.
``Being comfortable in this game is huge,'' Evans said. ``The more you play, the better understanding you have of everything around you, from what your receivers are doing to what the coaches are calling.
``Bill tells every player here, 'You wouldn't be here if I didn't have sheer confidence in you.' Obviously, Bill's seen something in Matt for four years that maybe other people didn't.''

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