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“I’m not trying to be Tom Brady,” he said a few days later. “I’m just trying to be Matt Cassel.”

He started 15 games that year, but the Patriots missed the playoffs despite an 11-5 record. In late February 2008, he was traded to the Chiefs. He’s started all but two games since, missing one this year when he had his appendix removed.

Cassel was very un-Brady-like last season, throwing 16 interceptions and 16 touchdowns while ranked 25th in passer rating in the NFL. He’s been much better this season with 27 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and the eighth best passer rating.

“Matt has more to do with it, certainly, than anybody,” Brady said. “He’s had an incredible year. We’re great friends. I mean, anytime you spend as much time as we spend together, you develop just a great relationship.”

But Cassel is coming off his worst game of the season _ 11 completions in 33 attempts for 115 yards, two interceptions, no touchdowns and five sacks. At least he could discuss his concerns this week with a three-time champion, two-time Super Bowl MVP and one-time regular-season MVP.

Tom’s been great. I continue to go to him for support,” Cassel said. “He’s a guy that I’ve constantly leaned on throughout my time here in Kansas City and throughout my career. He says go out there and have fun and enjoy the experience because there are a lot of other teams wishing they were in your position.”

In the Patriots locker room, they sat a few feet apart. In practice, they worked on drills together. In meeting rooms, Brady prepared like a rookie doing everything simply to make the team.

“He was so meticulous, not just throughout the year but also when it came playoff time,” Cassel said. “His awareness of what’s going on, the game plan. We went over it three to four times the night before the game, so there wasn’t any stone unturned.”

Brady learned that from coach Bill Belichick, a stickler for detail, and passed it on.

“The biggest thing for any quarterback is just to watch him. Just do what he does,” Belichick said. “He’s relentless in his preparation, his quest for perfection. … He does pretty much everything that you would want a quarterback to do.”

Now Brian Hoyer is watching.

Like Brady and Cassel, he was lightly regarded coming out of college at Michigan State. The Patriots signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2009. Now he’s in his second year as Brady’s student.

“He loves the game and he has a lot of knowledge and I think he knows that he can share it even when he doesn’t know he’s doing it,” Hoyer said. “I learn from him all the time, whether it’s watching him out at practice or sitting in a room watching film with him and hearing things that he has to say.

“If you’re going to be a backup quarterback, I think you’d want to be a backup to Tom.”

Brady is just 33 and healthy. He’s said he’d like to play into his 40s. So Hoyer’s chance likely would come through a trade or an injury to Brady. Just like Cassel.

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