FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) – As a backup to two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, Matt Cassel only threw 33 passes in four years at Southern California. He’s close to matching that after only one game in a New England Patriots uniform.

Cassel shined in New England’s 23-13 victory Friday over the Cincinnati Bengals, completing 13 of 21 passes for 135 yards and one touchdown in the preseason opener for both teams.

“Matt played a good game,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Sunday. “But the guy played one preseason game and he also made a lot of mistakes … I think it’s a little too early to start working on his bust for Canton.”

The Hall of Fame will have to wait: With four quarterbacks on the roster, Cassel is still fighting for a job. Rohan Davey and Doug Flutie also are vying to back up Tom Brady.

Flutie, who went from winning a Heisman to starring in the Canadian Football League, said he relates to Cassel’s underdog status.

“I didn’t get an opportunity (in the NFL) for a long, long time. So I’m rooting for him to do well,” Flutie said.

After seeing teammates like star safety Lawyer Milloy get released, New England’s players have learned not to take their jobs for granted.

“Everybody is replaceable,” said cornerback Rodney Harrison. “My perspective is that that for any player, it could be over tomorrow.”

That attitude helps explain why Harrison can’t imagine the Patriots dealing with a “circus” like the one that has marred the training camp of the Philadelphia Eagles, who sent disgruntled wide receiver Terrell Owens home for a week.

“Something like that wouldn’t happen here,” he said. “Bill (Belichick) and (vice president of player personnel) Scott Pioli bring the right kind of guys in here. We have so many veteran players who weed a guy like that out in a hurry. You can’t be a me’ guy and expect to be on this team and expect to have success.”

With a short week to prepare for Thursday’s preseason game against New Orleans, Belichick called this “the toughest week of training camp.”

Linebacker Mike Vrabel and running back Corey Dillon didn’t participate in Sunday’s two-hour workout. Vrabel injured his ankle in Friday’s game, while Dillon was awaiting the birth of his child and was granted permission to miss practice.


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