Sterling Sharpe’s words for Matt Cassel defended
By Karen Guregian
FOXBORO - On Monday, Tom Brady [stats] lashed out at the NFL Network crew that came down hard on backup Matt Cassel during Sunday night’s broadcast of the Patriots [team stats]’ preseason game against Tampa Bay.
Yesterday, Cassel chimed in with his two cents.
Neither quarterback was pleased with how analysts Sterling Sharpe and Marshall Faulk were overly critical of Cassel’s performance in the 27-10 loss.
Yesterday, Sharpe defended his harsh commentary, in which he said Cassel was “in the battle of his life” and that the Patriots couldn’t be “too comfortable” with their backup QB situation.
“I didn’t mean anything negatively, or maliciously, but from my point of view, here’s a guy who’s been in the system four years, and he’s in a quarterback battle,” said Sharpe, the former Green Bay Packers receiver. “You just thought things would look a little differently. I think that performance said something. I don’t know if my criticism was that harsh, except I just expected him to play better, especially when you’ve been around as long as he has and you’re in a battle for your job.”
Brady, who missed Sunday’s game with an injured foot, went to bat for Cassel during an interview with WEEI on Monday.
“Watching Matt (Sunday) night, hearing all the criticism, I don’t even know where that was coming from,” he said. “That was so far from what I was watching. The quarterback has a lot of responsibility out there. I thought Matt was making good decisions. He was really decisive with his throws. Was every throw perfect? No. But that doesn’t happen so often anyway.
“I see Matt every day in practice and the improvement he makes. I love what I see in Matt. I have a lot of confidence in Matt . . . for the three guys sitting in the booth, I thought it was unfair to criticize the way they were criticizing, because I don’t think they really knew what was happening.”
Sharpe wasn’t surprised at the arrows Brady slung his way and understood the QB’s defense of a teammate.
Yet that didn’t change his feelings on the in-game analysis.
“I’m not going to disagree with Tom’s assessment of Matt Cassel. I can’t. I’m not there every day,” Sharpe said when reached by phone yesterday. “But I would still say my criticism of Matt Cassel in that football game was based on the offense not having any shape or form. I’m putting all that on him. I’m not looking at the offensive line being out. I’m not looking at the running backs. I’m just looking at a guy who’s in a quarterback battle and looks this dull from where we were in the booth. That was an opportunity for him to distance himself a little bit. And he didn’t.”
Cassel, meanwhile, claimed he hasn’t heard the broadcast. However, he still had a message for Sharpe and Faulk.
“I don’t know why they are particularly harsh,” he said. “A lot of those guys are ex-players, and they understand how difficult this game is and how hard you prepare week in and week out, and so when they’re so critical, it’s interesting to me because those guys were in the same shoes at one point in their career, and they should understand how hard it is to go out there and perform each and every week.”
As a player, Sharpe said he didn’t speak with the media because of some of the criticisms that were aimed at him. Yet as an analyst, he’s being paid to provide commentary the way he sees it.
“My criticisms were based on the fact the offense hasn’t flowed in the two (preseason) games Matt has been in. And based on the injuries, there’s a chance, if Tom were to go down, there’s a chance Matt’s going to be (the) quarterback, and I think all of us watching are curious to see what that offense would look like without Tom,” Sharpe said. “Sure, he had a few drops in there, but when the offense struggles like that, I gave a lot of the criticism to Matt.”
Sharpe was surprised to see the Pats’ largely a vertical offense resort to safe, short passes after Cassel was nearly picked off on his first passing attempt.
“It looked as though the passing offense made a change, as a confidence-building thing with some of the throws for Matt,” Sharpe said. “I could be way off on that. Maybe I missed the boat, and if so, I apologize. But from a player’s perspective, I’m looking at it like, he’s already been in the situation for three years now and he’s in a quarterback battle with a rookie and a guy without much experience? If he’s in a battle, you’d expect him to win it. . . . This was his opportunity to separate himself from the other guys. He has to show why he is the No. 2 guy in New England. So I put more pressure on Matt to perform than I did (Kevin) O’Connell. You bet I did.”