Matt Cassel just answered another question.
In a season full of uncertainties, variables, and quandaries, the former backup has surpassed every expectation of him and is now set to lead the Patriots back to the postseason.
Since filling in for the injured Tom Brady in Week One, Cassel has been questioned at every turn. After learning that Brady did not have a bionic leg and would miss the remainder of the season, people wondered if Cassel could win on the NFL level even though he hadn't started a game since high school.
Next, people questioned whether he could be a key player in the Patriots' prolific passing attack, able to get the ball to playmakers like Randy Moss and Wes Welker in timely situations.
Then, facing a huge deficit at home against the Jets, people wondered if he had it in him. By "it," I mean the ability lead a comeback, just like No. 12 has done so many times.
The answer to all these questions was a resounding "Yes!"—an answer that has Matt Cassel performing at Pro Bowl level, and will surely place him near the top of the free-agent list come the offseason.
The most serious question of the season was raised early last week, after Cassel's father passed away.
Cassel left the team to be with his family, and Coach Belichick did not have any information with regard to his status versus the Raiders. However, Cassel did show up to play against Oakland, and his performance was one of the gutsiest displays I have seen in some time.
Granted, to be starting in the NFL is a dream come true for Cassel, but when reality hits that close to home, family comes first and everything else is merely an afterthought.
No matter to Cassel, however, who was focused from the first drive of the game to the last, completing 18 of 30 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns, a career high. Cassel also did a nice job, making smart throws and good decisions to protect the football.
Two of his touchdowns came to former Raider wide receiver Randy Moss, who angered Raider Nation by pointing to his back after scoring both times. As if they needed a reminder as to who he is!
Cassel did throw an interception, but it was only because Ben "Butterfingers" Watson let a throw bounce off his numbers. That interception was the only blemish on an otherwise outstanding effort.
Did Patriots fans expect anything different, though?
From what we have seen this year, Matt Cassel has been tough as nails throughout all the drama that comes with losing your franchise quarterback, answering the bell whenever it tolls.
Sunday was no different. His commitment to the team served as inspiration for the other 52 men on the roster, as well as the coaching staff and the fans.
The season is still far from over, though. Cassel knows what is at stake here, and that in order for the Patriots to make the tournament, he needs to play mistake-free football from here on out.
Sure, he had some rough games, but he has shown the fans of the New England Patriots the last few weeks an intangible stat, something that separates the Patriots from most teams in the league. He has mental toughness, a quality that has manifested itself all year long.
Throughout this tumultuous season, Cassel has answered every question. He has shown he can win and that he can play in this league.
Hopefully, the next question will be, "Can he win a playoff game?"
I'll bet my paycheck he can.
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