Life after Brady, Is it Cassel’s turn?

When Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard delivered the crushing blow to Tom Brady on Sunday, Gillette stadium went dead quiet. Tom Terrific, the player who had not missed a start in 128 games, was down clutching his left knee, obviously in serious pain. Not only did this happen on the play, but also Brady completed a 41 yard pass to Randy Moss, who then, without contact, fell and fumbled the ball to the Chiefs. After the traffic cleared, Brady was on the ground yelling and groaning in pain. Patriot Nation held its breath, and fans watched as their hero was helped off the field for what would be the last time they would see Tom Brady on a football field this season.

As Pollard blitzed Brady, running back Sammy Morris pancaked Pollard, just as he was taught to when blocking the quarterback. But Pollard was not done trying to get to Brady. Pollard looked up at Brady, and then literally threw himself, helmet first, into Brady’s leg. Some say that Morris threw Pollard into Brady, but it’s unlikely that he could have thrown Pollard with that velocity. The helmet bent Brady’s knee in at an awkward angle, and Brady split his two legs and fell onto the field. Pats fans watched in horror, with thoughts reminiscent of injuries suffered by Steve McNair, Carson Palmer, and Donovan McNabb.

Two of those players, McNair and Palmer, have never been the same. McNair is now retired after spending the last three seasons with the Ravens because the Titans did not want him anymore. Since his injury in the AFC playoffs, Carson Palmer has never been the same and has never played to his full potential. Donovan McNabb has had injury problems over the last three years from the lingering effects, but it finally looks like he may be close to 100%.

After the game, 11-year veteran wide receiver Randy Moss said, “I don’t really want to get into it, but for me personally, I think it was dirty. When I came back in (to watch the replay), it looked dirty to me. I’ve never been a dirty player. I honestly don’t even know how to play dirty. I just play the game. Any time you see something like that that looks foul, that looks dirty, it opens your eyes. So for me personally, it looked dirty.” Sammy Morris also thought it was a dirty play, initially saying, “Pollard came in, and as I was trying to let him get back up, he just kind of dove at his leg. That’s really all I saw. Initially I thought it was cheap, but, like I said, I have to look at the film to kind of figure out what exactly happened.” Bill Belichick also seemed to think the play was dirty, saying, “We always taught our players that it’s their responsibility to hit the quarterback above the knees and below the shoulders.”

Pollard rejected both Moss’s and Morris’s comments, but after the game he talked apologetically about the hit saying, “It was an accident. It was a call that we had, I went in to make a play and unfortunately landed on him and he went down. We knew it was something serious because of the yell that he let out.” The third-year safety out of Purdue insisted the hit was clean. “I’m not a dirty player. Like I said, it was football, it really was. I can’t do anything but pray for him and hope he comes back. As soon as he went down, if it was a dirty play, I wouldn’t have apologized. I’d have got up and went my way. I immediately started apologizing. I went to my coach and let my coach know and my coach knew (it wasn’t a dirty play). For all the people who said that, that’s their opinion.”

For now, the Patriots will move forward with backup quarterback Matt Cassel. Cassel has not made a single college or pro start in his career. In fact, his last career start was in high school back in 1999. But, Cassel has backed up the best in the business. Cassel backed up QB Carson Palmer while both were at USC, and Arizona Cardinals QB Matt Leinart, also while at USC, as well as Brady. Cassel may not have much experience, but he knows the system well and has playmakers all around him. While the Pats may now run far more than they have in the past, they will not abandon the passing game, as Cassel looked decent after taking over for Brady, going 13-18 for 152 yards and one touchdown in Sunday’s game. While there have been rumors of the Pats bringing in former Bucs QB Chris Simms, former 49ers QB Tim Rattay, and even retired QB Dante Culpepper to reunite with Moss as in the glory days at Minnesota, the likelihood is that the Pats will go with Cassel as the starter and either Rookie Kevin O’Connell or Matt Gutierrez as the backup.

Without Brady, people now highly doubt the Patriots will be a playoff contender. The regular season record has now moved from predictions of 14-2 or 13-3 team to anywhere from a 7-9 to a 10-6. “Everybody’s got a job to do,” Belichick said. “They’ve got their job to do. I’ve got my job to do. And there will be somebody else playing quarterback this week.”

Next Sunday, the Pats play the Jets in New York. The Jets, with new QB Brett Favre, might be a very tough challenge for the Bradyless-Pats. Trust in Cassel or not, the Pats are in for one wild season.

Debate: Was Pollard hit on Tom Brady legal or a cheap shot?