If Matt Cassel had come into last week's game against the Jets and lost, he would have been excused. I don't know a single person who would have considered it a "failure" on his part.
It was his first start since the '90s. He was facing a revamped Jets team which everyone has been raving about since Brett Favre was traded to New York.
If Matt Cassel had lost, nobody would have placed the blame solely on him.
But, he won. He won in his first NFL start, against a team that was favored by two-and-a-half points going into the game. Now, he has to face one of the league's worst franchises in the Miami Dolphins.
Normally, that would seem like a good thing. If he beat the Jets, surely he'll handle the Dolphins without issues, right?
That's the problem. Now that he's proven his ability to play mistake-free football and pull out a win, people will expect it this week. If he loses, he will be scolded by the media, and writers everywhere will start calling for Chris Simms and Dante Culpepper.
Let's not forget that even though the Dolphins are not the best team in the league right now, they're still an NFL team. They're also still a division rival of the Patriots, and very rarely do they go down without a fight. This is not a game to be taken lightly and, unfortunately for Matt Cassel, he has nothing to gain and everything to lose.
What the Patriots need to do:
New England needs to start this game in the same manner that they finished their last one: smashmouth, power football. If they can wear down Miami's defense early on, it might give the Patriots a chance to employ some play-action passing in the second half (if need be).
Lamont Jordan looked like a senior pushing around freshmen against the Jets, and he, Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, and Kevin Faulk will likely all get a crack at Miami's front seven.
It was nice to hear that Randy Moss is still quite confident, even without the services of Tom Brady. This tells me that he's not about to return to his Raider mentality of wanting the ball, or else. He enjoys being a part of the New England Patriots, and we'll probably see examples of his ability to be a leader in this game against Miami.
With his help, Matt Cassel should be fine.
On defense, the Pats need to do what they do best. Chad Pennington has never had much luck facing New England's defensive schemes. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown will probably be the biggest concern.
Luckily, New England can crowd the line of scrimmage and not worry too much about a long passing attack. Miami just doesn't have one.
What the Dolphins need to do:
Miami will need to remain calm, and find a way to avoid turning the ball over. If they can make it through the entire game without a fumble or interception, they might still be in it during the final minutes.
This will mean a lot of three-and-out series', and a very low scoring game. It's not impossible, but it will be very hard to do with all of the talent New England has on both sides of the ball.
On defense, Miami will need to blitz all day. If they don't fill the running holes, and put pressure on Cassel, this game will be over by the end of the first half. This will be a good opportunity for the coaching staff to see who's got stamina on defense.
Start: Sammy Morris, Randy Moss, and Ricky Williams
Sit: Chad Pennington, Ben Watson, and Ted Ginn Jr.
I started this piece by saying that if the Patriots lose this game, writers everywhere will be calling for the noose on Matt Cassel. I'm one of those writers. I can't see the Patriots losing this game, unless he has an extremely horrible showing.
I don't think that's going to happen though.