NFL Nation: MNF7 Broncos

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Less than two weeks ago, New England Patriots fans were lobbying for quarterback Matt Cassel to return to the sideline so rookie Kevin O'Connell could take a shot.

After 5 starts: Brady vs. Cassel
'01 Brady
'08 Cassel
3-2 W-L 3-2
204.6 Pass Yds/G 188.6
62.3 Comp pct 65.5
7-4 TD-Int 5-4
85.0 Passer rating 83.2

One game later, Cassel's all right.

"That's part of it I guess," Cassel said. "You have to take the good with the bad. As the quarterback, they are always looking at you, whether it's good or bad. This week, it obviously turned out on the plus side. Hopefully, we will continue that."

Cassel earned AFC offensive player of the week honors for his performance in Monday night's pummeling of the Denver Broncos. Cassel took six sacks, but he completed 18 of 24 passes for 185 yards, three touchdowns and a 136.3 passer rating.

And get this: Cassel's stats are remarkably similar to Tom Brady's when he took over in 2001.

Through their first five starts, they both went 3-2. Brady averaged only 16 more yards per game than Cassel has, while Cassel's 65.5 completion percentage is slightly higher than Brady's.

Brady threw seven touchdowns and four interceptions. Cassel has thrown five touchdowns and as many interceptions.

 
 Jim Rogash/Getty Images
 Randy Moss caught a pair of touchdown passes Monday night.

 Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For at least one game and one night, the New England Patriots rediscovered the joys of domination.

"We had a lot of things to hang our hats on tonight coming from all three units," Patriots receiver Randy Moss said. "We put it together. I think that when we put all three of those together this team is very, very scary. "

The inconsistent Patriots maintained their back-and-forth ways Monday night with a no-doubt 41-7 victory over the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium.

Who saw that coming? The Patriots were coming off a game in which the San Diego Chargers turned New England's secondary to cinders. The Broncos showed up with the NFL's third-ranked passing offense but might as well have scheduled an autumnal New England drive instead of a football game.

A loss would have dropped the Patriots two games behind the first-place Buffalo Bills, so they ended up winning their first home game since the season opener.

Bill Belichick, so robotic he packs WD-40 in his shaving kit, surprised his players in the two days before the game by telling them to have more fun.

"In the four years that I've been here, I've never heard Bill say 'Go out there, cut it loose and have some fun,' " cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. "We were jumping around, slapping each other, this and that. That's a great feeling out there. That's a great look out there. We had fun tonight."

There was a lot for a Patriots fan to be excited about. But there was also plenty cause for concern.

Three reasons the Patriots have figured it out

1. Revitalized running game: The Patriots have problems at running back, but they figured out a way to churn out rushing yardage anyway.

Before the game they ended Laurence Maroney's season by placing him on injured reserve with a bum shoulder. A calf injury has sidelined LaMont Jordan two straight games.

So, old pro Sammy Morris had the greatest game of his nine-year NFL career, and he didn't play a down in the second half. Morris rushed for 138 yards, the Patriots' highest first-half total since Robert Edwards amassed 166 in December 1998.

And when Morris went out of the game with a knee injury of indeterminate severity, the Patriots kept plowing onward. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (65 yards) and Kevin Faulk (50 yards) broke off several nice runs.

The Patriots finished with 257 rushing yards, their most since December 1985.

"We knew we could run on them," guard Logan Mankins said. "We assumed we could. We saw other teams do it, and we feel we can run the ball on most nights. The backs hit the holes hard. You give them a little crease, they're going to hit it."

2. Cassel, Moss connect: For only the second time in his last 31 games without Tom Brady as his quarterback, Moss had two touchdowns. The only other time it happened in that stretch was in the 2005 Oakland Raiders season finale. Kerry Collins was his quarterback.

Matt Cassel had his first three-touchdown game. He completed 18 of 24 passes for 185 yards and no interceptions for a 136.3 passer rating.

"I'd like to think that I continue to grow each and every week," Cassel said. "The more you run this offense the more comfortable you become. There's a lot of details that you have to be on top of if you want to be successful."

3. Defense makes big plays: The Patriots' secondary rebounded from a duck-and-cover performance to shut down Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler and two of the NFL's leading receivers, Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal.

The Patriots forced five turnovers -- three fumbles and two interceptions.

The Broncos came into the game having allowed only two sacks. The Patriots recorded three sacks on Monday night.

Cutler finished with a 64.3 passer rating, less than half of Cassel's.

Three reasons the Patriots haven't figured it out

1. Mounting injuries: New England already was down several players. Two talented running backs were out. So were starting right tackle Nick Kaczur and defensive lineman Jarvis Green.

Two potentially devastating losses occurred during the game. We don't know how serious the knee injuries to safety Rodney Harrison and Morris are.

Harrison was carted off the field after medical personnel immobilized his right knee at the end of the third quarter.

Said Belichick: "It doesn't look too good" for Harrison.

"He means a lot," Patriots safety James Sanders said. "He is a future Hall of Famer. He is one of the best to play the game. He has taught me a lot since I've been in New England. He means a lot to me as a football player and a friend.

"I don't know his status now. If he misses time, we will miss him."


2. Too many sacks: The Broncos sacked Cassel six times, driving up the
season total to 25. The Patriots allowed only 21 sacks all last year.

"We still have some problems in pass protection," Mankins said. "We'll get that straightened out. Well, we better get it straightened out, or it's going to be a long year."


3. Tough schedule: The Patriots' upcoming opponents don't provide any easy marks. Next up are the resurgent St. Louis Rams at Gillette Stadium. The Rams, under new head coach Jim Haslett, have won two in a row against perceived NFC East powers.

"We all saw what St. Louis did to Dallas this weekend," said starting right tackle Mark LeVoir. "They're back on track. They're a good team. We've got to get ready to go for them."

The Patriots are programmed not to talk about anything beyond the next game, but that won't stop us from listing their opponents. After the Rams, the schedule through November includes the Indianapolis Colts, Bills, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

That was a first place team?

The Broncos had to take total control of the AFC West with a win Monday night, but they ended up taking a step backward.

Now the sloppy and banged up Broncos head to their bye week with a 4-3 record and just a one game lead over San Diego. The Chargers have to be feeling very good right now as they begin their week in Europe.

The Broncos were terrible on defense and committed five turnovers. These are problems that have been plaguing this team. Denver has talent on offense but they have to keep their hands on the ball.

Denver is floundering on defense. They were exploited in the passing and running games and with Champ Bailey potentially out with a groin injury, Denver could have big problems when it comes out of the bye week.

The Broncos did not play like a first-place team Monday night and if they continue to play this way, they won't be in first place in the standings either.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- So what do we make of this?

More than ever this season, the New England Patriots looked like their 2007 version Monday night in Gillette Stadium.

Aside from the troubling trend of allowing too many sacks, the Patriots rebounded from an ugly loss to dominate the Denver Broncos, 41-7.

In alternating games, starting in Week 3, the Patriots have allowed 38 points, scored 30 points, allowed 30 points and scored 41 points.

Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel looked like a suitable proxy with his first three-touchdown game. Randy Moss scored two touchdowns. Wes Welker had the other.

Sammy Morris ran for 138 yards in the first half, and when he left the game with a knee injury BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Kevin Faulk ripped off some runs behind the Pro Bowlers on the left side of the offensive line.

The Patriots' defense made several big plays. They recorded sacks, made interceptions, forced fumbles -- you name it.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison waved to the Gillette Stadium crowd amid a thunderous ovation while a cart drove him off the field in between the third and fourth quarters of Monday night's game against the Denver Broncos.

Medical personnel immobilized Harrison's right knee as they assisted him onto the cart after a long delay. There has been no announcement on the severity of the injury other than he will not return.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots running back Sammy Morris had a career game in just the first half. Now, he's out with a knee injury and his return is questionable for Monday night's game against the Denver Broncos in Gillette Stadium.

Morris ran for a personal-best 138 yards and a touchdown before halftime. That ties Morris for the 10th-highest first-half total since 2001, according to ESPN researcher Benjamin Lerner. The last rusher with at least 138 first-half yards was Denver's Selvin Young, who ran for 143 last December.

Before the game, the Patriots ended running back Laurence Maroney's season by placing him on injured reserve and deactivated LaMont Jordan, who's battling a calf problem.

For the Broncos, cornerback Champ Bailey and linebacker Boss Bailey will not return to the field, but quarterback Jay Cutler resumed control of the offense on the first series of the second half.

Champ Bailey is out with a groin injury, while Boss Bailey is out with a knee injury.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Here are some more notes on the Denver Broncos quarterback situation in Monday night's game against the New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium. The Patriots lead the Broncos, 20-0.

  • A press box announcement has been made that Jay Cutler has suffered a finger injury, and his return is questionable. He appeared to strike his hand on Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork's helmet while throwing a ball that was intercepted by Brandon Meriweather late in the second quarter.
  • Replacement quarterback Patrick Ramsey entered for the Broncos and, on his fourth snap, fumbled while dropping back to pass.
  • The Broncos carry only two quarterbacks. No third-stringer exists, and nobody seems to know who the disaster quarterback is.
  • Ramsey entered Monday with only seven games played over the past three-plus seasons. He has made only 74 throws in that span.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Denver Broncos are dropping.

In a development New England Patriots receiver Randy Moss must love, lockdown cornerback Champ Bailey has a strained groin, and his return is questionable. He appeared to be in agony, lying on his back on a trainers table on the Broncos sideline at the two-minute warning in the second quarter.

And before I could hit the button to publish this entry, Matt Cassel connected with Moss for a 13-yard touchdown over Dre Bly and a 20-0 Patriots lead with 44 seconds left in the first half.

Cutler hurt; Ramsey warming up

October, 20, 2008
10/20/08
9:56
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler has suffered an apparent injury to his throwing hand.

He was hurt after throwing a long ball that was intercepted by New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather with 5:10 left in the second quarter.

Cutler's throwing hand has been packed in ice. Broncos backup Patrick Ramsey is warming up on the sideline.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots running back Sammy Morris is well on his way to a career day.

With 7:34 left in the first half against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium, he has 11 carries for 106 yards and a touchdown. Thanks to Morris, the Patriots are up 13-0.

The best game of Morris' career came as a Miami Dolphin in December 2006 against the Patriots. He ran a career-high 25 times for a career-high 123 yards.

Unless Morris gets thrown for some WWE-style losses, he will finish the game with more than 100 yards for the third time in four games. He came into this season with a single 100-yard game on his resume.

Morris, 31, has been getting a majority of the carries because of injuries to Laurence Maroney and LaMont Jordan.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots are not having any trouble on the ground against the Denver Broncos.

Not even three minutes into the second quarter, Sammy Morris has 66 yards, mostly running left behind Pro Bowlers Dan Koppen and Matt Light.

And quarterback Matt Cassel has been sacked three times for 17 yards.

Cassel has been sacked 22 times (and counting) this season. Tom Brady was sacked 21 times all last year.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Andre Hall might want to find a nice slab of bench on the Denver Broncos' sideline. Or a hole to climb into.

Hall has two rush attempts for minus-7 yards and two lost fumbles. Not exactly a stat line you want on the back of your trading card.

The New England Patriots turned both fumbles into field goals. Stephen Gostkowski has made kicks of 31 and 40 yards to give them a 6-0 lead late in the first quarter.

Hall, a second-year pro out of South Florida, came into the game when starting running back Michael Pittman suffered a minor injury that briefly sidelined him on the opening drive. The Broncos had converted three third downs and driven to the Patriots' 32-yard line when Hall lost his handle.

Hall fumbled again on the fourth play of their second drive. The ball was snapped from the New England 37-yard line but was recovered on the Denver 22.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The NFL's third-ranked pass offense will have to manage without two of their more dangerous targets, but one of them is back.

Eddie Royal, their second-leading receiver with 30 catches and 321 yards, is back on the field after an ankle injury held him out of last week's loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Jay Cutler will not have receiver Brandon Stokley or tight end Tony Scheffler in his huddle. Both are inactive and in street clothes.

Stokley is out because he suffered against Jaguars. Stokley has 16 catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns in his past three games.

Scheffler has a groin injury. He has 16 catches for 259 yards and two touchdowns this season.

Also out for the Broncos with a groin injury is leading rusher Selvin Young, who has 266 yards and one touchdown. But Michael Pittman is coming off a 109-yard performance and has scored a team-high four touchdowns.

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