It is a sight New England sports fans feared the most- the sight of the Golden Boy hobbling off of the football field. Reigning NFL MVP QB Tom Brady suffered a season-ending ACL tear during the first quarter of a 17-10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. As he dropped back to deliver a pass to Randy Moss he was unintentionally tackled in the leg by Chiefs S Bernard Pollard. Pollard vehemently apologized after the game, saying the move was not dirty although Moss would beg to differ.
The injury has since sent shockwaves throughout the entire league as one of its premiere players is gone for the remainder of the year. Brady's backup, Matt Cassel, came in to throw for 158 yards and a touchdown on 13-of-18 passes. Cassel's defining moment of the game on a third down play from his own 1-yard line and he completed a 51-yard strike to Randy Moss, giving Patriot Nation a huge sigh of relief for the time being. He finished the drive with a 10-yard score to Moss completing a 98 yard drive.
Now, with their leader sidelined, the New England Patriots will have to step up and prove to the world that they are not just a team that depends on the right arm of Tom Brady. Cassel has not made a start since high school and he will be thrown into the fire on the road against Brett Favre and the New York Jets. After the game, coach Bill Belichick addressed his team saying "when one man goes down, the next man must step up." Cassel has held a clipboard for Heisman Trophy winners at USC (Palmer/Leinart) and a Super Bowl MVP in Brady. Though Brady will be back in 2009, Cassel will have to grow up real quick and real fast.
This now brings up an interesting question: Is the football quarterback the most important position to a team in all of professional sports?
In my opinion, the answer is an unquestionable and undisputed YES. There is no other position in any other sport that demands more preparation, mental and physical toughness and even harder scrutiny than the quarterback position of an NFL team. The terminology is complex, he touches the ball every offensive play and he is personally responsible for the overall success of the team itself.
The quarterback must be the most prepared player on the football team. He is responsible for protection calls of the offensive line, audibles, directing his team down the field, the beginning of every play of the game, recognizing changes in opposing defenses (blitzes, disguised coverages, etc) and must command his huddle of teammates when taking the field. He must have poise in the pocket and must be able to deliver a throw when looking down the gunbarrel of an oncoming rusher. He cannot panic when in a pressure situation and must have the confidence in himself and the trust of his teammates to manage the game and get the job done.
If any team in the NFL knows how to deal with adversity, it is the New England Patriots. Matt Cassel will be surrounded with a great supporting cast that includes a solid offensive line, fantastic receivers and a deep and capable running game. He also has a nasty and punishing defense to help him if his team has a lead. Add that in with brilliant coaching staff and Matt Cassel should have good success as he is now the man for the rest of 2008. Will he put up Brady-like numbers? Maybe not but he will be asked to manage the game, do his job and put his team in the best position to win each and every week. Will the Pats ultimately go back to the postseason and beyond? Many have them winning 11 games but only time will tell on that prediction.
With Brady's injury now taken care of, who becomes the AFC favorite to go to Tampa? Watching all games yesterday, I'm going to go with Pittsburgh. They have a punishing rushing attack, an even more relentless defense and Roethlisberger looks like the best quarterback in the conference. Indianapolis did not look sharp at all against Chicago and San Deigo decided to sleepwalk through the last minute of its game against Carolina. An even bigger question now arises- Is the NFC now the power conference in the NFL?
Tom Brady's injury has indeed changed the landscape of the NFL. 2008 should be fun to watch.