SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -The first month of the season was quite a whirlwind for Matt Cassel.
Thrown into the starting quarterback role for the New England Patriots when Tom Brady went down in the opener with a season-ending knee injury, Cassel had to deal with starting for the first time since high school in place of perhaps the game's best quarterback on a team that expects to win the Super Bowl every season.
So forgive him if it was a little overwhelming at the start. But after getting an early bye week to catch his breath and putting together a strong performance last week at San Francisco, Cassel is settling into the job.
``I definitely feel a little bit more comfortable,'' he said Wednesday before the Patriots held their first practice of the week at San Jose State. ``The butterflies have gone down a little bit. You start to get into a routine and figure out how you want to approach each and every week. I think that's just the growing process. The more you do something, the more comfortable you become in a role.''
en Cassel connected with Randy Moss on the type of deep pass Tom Brady threw so well last year and then engineered a late drive at the end of the first half that led to a touchdown.
Cassel's performance caught the eye of San Diego coach Norv Turner, whose Chargers team hosts the Patriots on Sunday in the fourth meeting between the teams in less than 21 months.
``I think you see improvement,'' Turner said. ``I've seen confidence over the last four weeks and it was kind of a coming out game against San Francisco and Matt looks like he's getting a real feel for what they are asking him to do.''
Cassel had his best game as a pro against the 49ers, going 22-for-32 for a career-high 259 yards and a touchdown. He did throw two interceptions and sees plenty of room for improvement in the coming weeks.
But his coach is pleased with the progress he's seen from his quarterback and overall passing game since Cassel's first start against the Jets on Sept. 14.
``I hope everything we are doing now is better than what it was a month ago and I hope everything we were doing a month ago was better than what it was back in August,'' coach Bill Belichick said. ``There is a natural progression and at the same time Matt has worked hard. ... Certainly having a few extra days of practice over the bye week didn't hurt any.''
In Cassel's first start against the Jets, he threw predominantly short passes, hoping his receivers could turn those short throws into big gains. His average completion against New York came just 1.8 yards down field, according to numbers compiled by Stats LLC. Cassel's longest completion went for just 26 yards.
Against the Niners, Cassel was able to get the ball down field with more success, completing out patterns to Moss and the deep ball behind the defense that went for 66 yards and a first-quarter touchdown. The average completion went 5.1 yards down field, much closer to the 7-yard average the Patriots had last year with Brady at the helm.
``It always helps to score on a big play,'' Belichick said. ``I think that forces the defense to respect you and it opens up some other things. It's not always possible but I think you always like to throw a couple down there to at least let them know that you are thinking about it. We did that or tried to do it.''
Forcing the defense to respect Cassel's ability to get Moss the ball down field, should open things up even more underneath for Wes Welker, the tight ends and running backs.
Running back Sammy Morris said that play not only gave Cassel some confidence but will give defenses something else to worry about.
``Any defense has to respect the fact that Randy Moss is out there and he's got blazing speed out there,'' Morris said. ``But to actually hit it, to connect on the pass is even more in there psyche. You have to honor that. You have to wait, even if its just a second or two longer, to make sure it's a run on the play action or you have to make sure that it is a run before the safeties start coming up quick.''

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