Losing Star QB for Season Will Effect Entire Conference
Where it used to be the New England Patriots and then everyone else in the AFC, the season-ending knee injury suffered by quarterback Tom Brady in the first quarter of the season opener has changed everything. The team that was the preseason favorite to win it all will have to defend their conference title without their field general.
No matter how good a head coach Bill Belichik may be, losing the reigning league MVP may be more than even he can overcome. No slight against Matt Cassel, but he will be making his first start since high school come this Sunday on the road against the Jets.
The former back-up nearly found himself on the unemployment line following a dismal performance in the Pats' four exhibition losses. Now he is being asked to step in for a team that went 16-0 last season.
Cassel was able to lead the team to a 17-10 home win over the Kansas City Chiefs after taking over for Brady. Under normal circumstances, New England would have dominated a weaker opponent like the rebuilding Chiefs. They barely hung on and if that is any indication of what is in store, first place in the AFC East will not be for long.
"I would still consider them the favorite," Jet linebacker Eric Barton said in response to a question posed to him about the Pats and the Super Bowl. "Absolutely. I think the last time they were in a situation like this they won the Super Bowl," he continued, reflecting on the time Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe on September 23, 2001 and promptly led 14-point underdog New England to a shocking victory over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Brett Favre agreed with Barton's assessment. "I think the Patriots are the team to beat until proven otherwise," the veteran quarterback said. "They have dominated this division as well as this league for a long time."
From one QB to another, Favre isn't buying into what people are saying about the Pats being lost without their marquee player in the lineup, but did acknowledge there will be a difference. "Matt Cassel played great the other day when he came in," he said. "They assume he will do that. Tom Brady is Tom Brady. So that does give us a better chance."
According to Jets head coach Eric Mangini, the new starter has enough weapons around him to carry the load. "It's a very efficient offense," he said. "Matt will do an excellent job for them. He's been there a long time. I was there when he got there.
"He's very similar to what I've experienced with a lot of the quarterbacks in terms of the way he approaches things, how disciplined he is and how much he studies. He's got a strong arm. He can make plays with his feet. I think he'll do a really, really good job."
Heading into the season, most of the experts were putting New England, Indianapolis and San Diego at the top of the heap. Both the Colts and Chargers lost at home in Week 1 to underdog NFC teams.
An interesting campaign just got a lot more interesting. How all of this plays out is anyone's guess at this early juncture, but no Brady can make for a very different season than what has been considered the 'norm' for New England.