FOXBORO, Mass. — Some notes and nuggets from Thursday’s New England Patriots media availability at Gillette Stadium:
— Nearly 10 years after leading New England to an 11-5 record in relief of an injured Tom Brady, Matt Cassel will return to Foxboro this Saturday for the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, this time as the backup to Tennessee Titans starting quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Cassel, a seventh-round draft pick of the Patriots in 2005, has bounced around the league since starting 15 games in Brady’s stead in 2008. He was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs after that season and played four years there before signing with the Minnesota Vikings in 2012. After two seasons in Minnesota and a 2015 campaign split between Buffalo and Dallas, the veteran signal-caller landed his current gig in 2016.
Not bad for a guy who didn’t start a single game at quarterback in four years of college.
As Patriots coach Bill Belichick pointed out Thursday morning, Cassel sat behind two Heisman Trophy winners at USC in Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart but now has an opportunity to outlast both of them. Leinart played his final NFL game in 2012, and Palmer — by far the most successful of the three at the pro level — announced his retirement last month.
“He’s had a good career,” Belichick said of Cassel. “He played behind two great players. It looks like he might outlast Palmer, I don’t know. He outlasted Leinart, but he’d have to go another year, I guess, to outlast Palmer. But he’s had a great career.”
Now 35, Cassel has appeared in three games this season (one start), completing 25 of 42 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions.
— The 2008 Cassel season was one of just two since 2001 in which the Patriots failed to reach the playoffs. (2002 was the other.) The constants in every one of those postseason trips? Brady and Belichick.
Asked whether Belichick’s approach or demeanor change once the playoffs arrive, Brady preached the benefits of maintaining the same routine that proved successful during the regular season.
“I think what makes him so great is that he’s so consistent, just in his approach and week to week,” the 40-year-old QB said. “I think you get to these points, you start doing things different and you’ve got to think, ‘Man, why were we doing those things all year if these are the things that are working?’ We’ve done a good job of just sticking to what we’ve kind of done all season.
“The tough part is there’s a finality to all these games. You’ve got to earn it if you’re going to move on. You’ve got to earn it if you’re going to practice again next week. We’ve got to go out there and play well. We’re playing a team that’s been playing well, plays well in all three phases, puts a lot of pressure on you. (The Titans are) well coached, so we’re going to have to do the same.”
— Brady said the highly publicized ESPN story that broke last Friday was not a distraction as the Patriots prepared for the Titans.
“Not to us players,” he said. “We do what we always do. We show up to work and try to do the best we can do. We know there’s a lot at stake and I think everyone’s put a lot into it. It doesn’t really matter what happened outside of this facility and what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s a big task to go out and win a playoff game. We’re playing against a good team, divisional round, and I’m glad we earned the chance to be here to do it. We’ve just got to go take care of business.”