Patriots’ fans never thought it could get much worse than losing the Super Bowl as a heavy favorite on the cusp of perfection.
However, in the opening quarter of the 2008 season, their worst nightmare was realized.
Reigning League MVP and franchise quarterback, Tom Brady started the game against the Chiefs as he finished the 2007 season on fire. He was 7-for-11 for 76 yards before the hit felt around New England occurred.
Brady was in the pocket when KC Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard leapt at the Patriots quarterback’s left knee after shaking off a Sammy Morris block.
Tom Brady went down and did not get up. It didn’t look good and the Patriots season seemed to be in peril only one quarter into the season.
Brady hobbled off the field with a torn ACL and MCL. And he would be lost for the entire 2008 season.
Inexperienced backup Matt Cassel entered the game to lead the Patriots. The same Matt Cassel who had a horrific preseason and barely survived preseason cuts.
But Bill Belichick saw something in Cassel’s work ethic in practice to keep the seldom used signal caller around.
Cassel had not started a game in the pros or even during his time at USC.
No one knew what laid ahead for this untested quarterback or his newly inherited shell-shocked team.
The Patriots lost the only player they could ill afford to lose, Tom Brady or so they thought. New England had no time to dwell on this catastrophic event; they still had a whole season of football to go.
And it began with the Chiefs.
Cassel performed well against Kansas City; he threw for 152 yards and connected with Randy Moss on a touchdown leading the Patriots to a 17-10 victory.
Matt Cassel got better as the season progressed including back-to-back 400-yard passing performances against division rivals New York and Miami. He led the Patriots to an 11-5 record which was beyond anyone’s expectations.
Cassel finished his full season with Tom Brady-like stats. He threw for 3693 yards with 21 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. Unfortunately, his outstanding performance was not enough to propel New England into the playoffs.
The Dolphins edged the Patriots out for the AFC East crown due to having a better conference record (8-4 to 7-5). New England also fell short for a wildcard berth because the Ravens also had a better conference record.
New England had 11 wins and did not qualify for postseason. They became the first 11 win team since the 1985 Broncos not to qualify for the playoffs.
To say the 2009 offseason was eventful would be an understatement.
Many changes were on the horizon for the Patriots.
However, the biggest question mark was Tom Brady. Could he return to his NFL MVP level or would he be another successful athlete that had his career cut short by a devastating injury?
Only time would tell.
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Joe Gill is a featured blogger for Boston Sports Then and Now.