Cassel's sorrow is 'bigger than football'

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
New England Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel left the team Wednesday to be with his family in Southern California. His father, Greg, died Monday night after a long illness. He was 57.

The Patriots are fighting for a playoff spot, but some matters are more important.

"It's bigger than football," Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters before Wednesday's practice at San Jose State. "I have been through that during the season as well. It's a personal situation that you just have to deal with."

Belichick's father and coaching inspiration, Steve, died during the 2005 season.

Belichick said Cassel is "going to take care of what he has to do," and his status for Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders will be evaluated each day.

"Our thoughts are with Matt and his family during this time," Belichick said. "From a football standpoint, we will just handle it with the other guys like we normally do in any other situation. Otherwise, we are getting ready for Oakland."

(Click here for an ESPN The Magazine story on the Cassel family's tight bond. Cassel's two brothers, Justin and Jack, are professional baseball players.)

If Cassel is unable to play, rookie Kevin O'Connell likely would get the start. The third-round draft choice out of San Diego State has thrown four NFL passes.

"I think Kevin learns every week," Belichick said. "He takes advantage of the opportunities that he gets in the meetings and on the practice field. He is a smart guy. Football is important to him.

"He works hard at it and I think he gets better on a daily basis. He's gotten better through the course of the year with the opportunities that he's had, which have been limited, but he's always ready to go when we put him in there."

Boston Globe reporter Christopher L. Gasper spoke to several Patriots about Cassel's grief.

"Matt is a more than just a teammate to me," running back Sammy Morris said. "His loss is our loss."

Said defensive end Richard Seymour: "Matt knows his teammates always have his back. It's a tough situation and we wish him and his family the best."