Great Gillette Moments: Matt Cassel's solid relief effort


There's a lot to celebrate in this Patriots season, but one of the lower-key milestones is the 15th anniversary of Gillette Stadium's opening. While it's not the most prolific celebration, it's still worth looking back. Each week, PatriotsLife will take a look at some of the best moments in Gillette's history as host of the golden era of Patriots football.

Entering the 2008 season, stakes were high for the Patriots. They were fresh off the heals of a perfect 16-0 season, and were reeling from a disappointing Super Bowl XLII loss.

With a roster featuring the likes of Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi and much more, the Pats were primed to take another run. In the first quarter of their first game, though, everything nearly went to hell.

Brady took a low hit from Kansas City's Bernard Pollard (a hit that would later be banned by the NFL), tearing both his ACL and his MCL. His season was over, just before it could get started.

Matt Cassel immediately stepped in. Having been Brady's understudy since being drafted in the seventh round in 2005, he wasn't in entirely over his head, but there were still some big cleats to fill.

Cassel drove the Pats the length of the field in the second quarter, and hooked Moss up with a touchdown from 10 yards out -- just the third touchdown pass of his career, and first since 2005. Sammy Morris would give them another touchdown, and New England led 17-10 in the latter stages of the fourth quarter.

Ultimately, Cassel had no control over an important aspect of the game -- the defense's clutch stand. Facing first-and-goal from the 5, the Pats defense stuffed a Larry Johnson run and forced three incompletions, staving off the Chiefs for the 17-10 win.

Cassel finished his day having completed 13 of 18 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown. Not bad for being thrown into the fire right away. As fantasy owners across the nation scrambled to drop Brady and add him, he finished his season with a 63.4 completion percentage, 3,693 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Though they finished with an 11-5 record that year, it was a tiebreaker that kept the Patriots out of that year's playoffs -- the last time that's happened to date. After earning the franchise tag that offseason, Cassel was sent to that very team he beat in Week 1. He was released by the Chiefs in 2013, and spent time with Minnesota, Buffalo and Dallas before settling in his current backup role with Tennessee last year.

One devastating hit seemed to have cost the Patriots their 2008 season in just the first game. But Cassel proved to be capable that year, and it ultimately went on to define his career.

Follow Rob Riches on Twitter @Riches61