logoby Dan Snapp

Remember the halcyon days of yore, when people routinely compared Tom Brady to Joe Montana? These days we’re left resurrecting the Ghosts of Patriots Misfortune Past.

Who does Matt Cassel remind you of most? Drew Bledsoe holding onto the ball too long, Tony Eason turtling under pressure, or Hugh Millen losing his bearings on fourth down? Is Deltha O’Neal the worst Pats corner since Duane Starks, Antonio Langham, or Chris Canty? And is Richard Seymour turning into Kenneth “Game Day” Sims before our eyes?

As our eyes tell us, and as the stats back up, the Patriots just aren’t a very good team. We suspected as much during preseason, but were willing to brush that off as just that – preseason. Surely with Brady back for the opener, they’d revert back to the dominance of ’07.

But the blowouts to Miami and San Diego taught us something else: with or without Brady, this team has serious issues to resolve. Former areas of strength now loom as gaping holes. Positions neglected in drafts and free agency are exploited as vulnerabilities.

For Bill Belichick, it’s the perfect storm: His MVP quarterback out for the season, his old standby vets with too many steps lost to make the plays, and a couple of years of tepid drafting leaving nothing in reserve.

Ehh, but forget about all that. Let’s talk about the quarterback, as it’s so much easier to blame it on the guy handling the ball.

Remember the fun days of the 1989 Patriots, with an aging Steve Grogan, an ineffectual Marc Wilson, a washed-up Eason and a we-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-this-guy Doug Flutie playing musical quarterback? How ’bout ’92, when the choices devolved to Millen, Scott Zolak, Tommy Hodson and Jeff Carlson?

Break out the turntable and chairs! Once again, we get a motley choice of  signal-callers to helm the team.

You could have Cassel, the guy we all thought wouldn’t make it out of training camp (and who’s done little since to dissuade us of that); Kevin O’Connell, the rookie third-rounder; or Matt Gutierrez, who was cut but found no takers elsewhere.

Ahh, but before the music starts, Belichick ruins our fun, and gives Cassel the chair. It’s official: for us to witness O’Connell in any meaningful action, the season will already have gone down the crapper.

 Said the coach in no uncertain terms on Tuesday:

“Matt is our starting quarterback. He gives our team the best chance to win.”

So there you have it. So long as the Patriots are in the running, Matt Cassel will be the guy. With the team one game out of first in a weak division, playing in a weak conference, and in a weak league overall, there are plenty of crappy teams out there to make the Patriots look above average. And keep Cassel under center.

That he stinks isn’t what’s so frustrating. It’s his abject mediocrity that’s so damnable. Cassel’s just good enough to beat the chaff, and just bad enough to lose to the wheat. But because of a blah league, it doesn’t matter if he plays like crop.

He represents that middle ground in sports you never want to occupy: like the coach who wins just enough to not get fired, or the NBA team not bad enough for the lottery yet not good enough to climb out of the first round. For the fans, it’s purgatory.

Mike Lombardi’s scouting report is less than glowing:

Cassel does not make very quick decisions and his accuracy on some easy throws is a concern. He looks like he cannot process the decisions with any real conviction.

Lombardi then offered grim portents of what lay in store for the Pats with Cassel in charge:

The Pats cannot play a game in the 20s. They will need to keep the score in the teens and get the game into the fourth quarter.

This isn’t a recipe for success.

Sunday night’s game felt like an old training video, with the Chargers representing the Dos and the Pats playing the Don’ts.

“When running play action at the goal line, throw to the man who’s open in the end zone. Ooh! Bad choice, Matt. Let Philip show you how. Now that’s the way to do it!”.

The case for Kevin O’Connell is that we don’t know Kevin O’Connell. He’s young, strong, athletic and a reasonably high draft pick. That’s it. And the not knowing, especially after watching Cassel’s fourth-down linedancing, has us feeling on solid ground when we think, “Anything’s better than this!”

But Belichick being Belichick, he’s probably right.

For one thing, he does know O’Connell, and Gutierrez as well. A change at quarterback could prove just as fruitless for the Pats now as it was in ’89 and ’92. It would be change for change’s sake, ultimately revealing what we already know is true:

This team’s problems run much deeper than quarterback.