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Here is the first installment of my end of the year grades for the 2008 New England Patriots. We’ll start with the most talked about position on the team for many reasons, the quarterback.
Matt Cassel: A
Thoughts: We all thought the worst when Tom Brady suffered his career ending injury in Week 1 against the Chiefs. I was at Gillette for the game and even though Cassel did a great job pulling out the win, I remembered how horrid he looked in the preseason and figured the Patriots were screwed. Though I still thought they could win nine or 10 games with their schedule I had no idea Matt Cassel would turn into the player he did. His stats were impressive (3,693 yards, 21 TDs, 11 INTs, 89.4 passer rating), his pocket presence drastically improved and his ability to take over and win a game understated. For a guy who sat on the bench since high school, Cassel improved leaps and bounds in every aspect of his game and now the Patriots have quite a chip to either trade or keep in case Brady isn’t ready for 2009. What he brings to the table that Brady doesn’t is the ability to run with the football when needed. There were innumerable plays this year when Cassel scrambled out of the pocket to pick up big first downs. Whatever team he ends up playing for in 2009 will have a competent, hard working and skillful quarterback.
Kevin O’Connell: C
Thoughts: The jury is obviously still out on the rookie as he only played briefly in two games, going 4-6 with 23 yards. His performance in the mini camps and training camp is definitely something to keep an eye on as the status of Brady isn’t 100% certain. Most feel – as I do – that Cassel is going to be traded before the beginning of the season as his value is at its highest right now. If O’Connell can show in practice what Cassel did, the Pats might give him an opportunity to get some first team snaps if Brady isn’t set to go to start ’09.
Tom Brady: Incomplete
Thoughts: Brady obviously didn’t have much to work with this season and despite the devastating injury, Patriots fans can truly say they’ve been playing with house money on No. 12 as this is his first significant injury. Many different reports say many different things about his rehab but I would be shocked if Brady didn’t play a significant amount in 2009 and play it near the top of his ability level.
Overall quarterback grade: A-