Matt Cassel had 15 starts to work his magic in 2008. He had another 15 games to bring on the doubt in 2009. Scott Pioli and Co. bet big on the former performance with a contract we've discussed ad nauseum since it was first signed. Last year, the doubters came out, wondering if the former New England back-up struck the same single season gold that one-year wonders before him like Scott Mitchell and Derek Anderson.
A Bucky Brooks column from SI.com profiled the Cassel conundrum back in February, 2009 when he posted this quote from an NFC personnel director:
"That's the trap when taking a chance on him. You don't have an extensive history to study. He didn't play much in college, and this year is the only time that he has really been on the field. So you're making your judgments solely off one year of production. That's fine, but you don't know how he will respond to the different looks that he will face next year after defensive coordinators have spent an offseason breaking down his strengths and weaknesses. He may turn out to be a good one, but there is no guarantee that he will ever duplicate this season's production."
From 10 wins to four, it's easy to take shots at Cassel and Pioli and wonder if Pioli fell for his own kind. That's understandable when you have such poor production. Writers have to write, so if you give them nothing but poor results, well, that's what you get. But it's easy to forget Cassel had Randy Moss, Wes Welker and a system he'd studied for years on his side. He also had zero pressure given the circumstances of entering in Tom Brady's shadow.
Now, he's had a full year to deal with the spotlight of being one of 32 players who can say they're a starting NFL quarterback. He's got a full season of Chris Chambers, a hopefully rejuvenated Dwayne Bowe and arguably the best offensive backfield in the AFC. He's got more playmakers at his disposal and a retooled defense that hopefully will give him more time on the sidelines. Oh, yeah... those guys named Weis and Crennel might make a difference as well.
Still it's up to Cassel to make it happen. He has the pieces to make it work (a better running back scenario than anything he ever witnessed in New England for one). Now it's time to move the team forward on his shoulders and from all indications, it seems he's willing to bear that mantle.