ARLINGTON, Texas – Matt Cassel had handed back the Cowboys' starting quarterback job once before. Just not this way.
A month ago, Cassel moved back to No. 2 on the depth chart when Tony Romo returned from a fractured collarbone. He would resume as the fill-in starter when Romo got injured again on Thanksgiving Day.
Saturday night against the New York Jets, after throwing an interception and going scoreless in three of four drives, Cassel got benched for backup Kellen Moore – a four-year veteran taking the first regular-season game snaps of his career.
The Cowboys lost the game, 19-16, dropping their record to 1-6 in games Cassel has started this season. Certainly not what the 11-year veteran envisioned when the Cowboys acquired him via trade in September following Romo's first of two collarbone injuries.
"As hard as it is, as frustrated as you are for your circumstance, you have to support the next guy up," Cassel said.
"To Kellen's credit, he went in and I thought he battled and did a great job today in tough circumstances. That's just kind of part of this business."
Cassel's final line: 3-of-8 for 37 yards, no touchdowns and an interception for a season-low 13.0 passer rating.
After the game, head coach Jason Garrett didn't commit to a starter for Week 16 at Buffalo. But there were signs last week a switch could be made in-game against the Jets based on performance: for the first time all year, Moore took a few reps with the first-team offense in practice.
The game, in fact, did not start well for Cassel.
He completed his first pass to Jason Witten for 15 yards, part of a quick, run-heavy drive to the Jets' 9-yard line. But two straight incompletions to Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams forced the offense to settle for a field goal.
The second drive got worse.
Facing second-and-17 after a minus play and a penalty, Cassel stumbled moving to his right and lobbed a pass up for grabs. Jets All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis intercepted the ball and returned it 24 yards to the Cowboys' 35-yard line.
"It was really like the ultimate no-no," Cassel said.
Two series later – both three-and-outs – Moore's number was called. Cassel spent the rest of the night in a support role from the bench.
"He fought through some things, he did some good things for us," Garrett said of Cassel, "but ultimately it was a decision to say, 'Hey can we get something going with our offense.'
"I thought Kellen came in, and did a nice job, gave us a spark at times, gave us a couple of chances to go down and get some scoring opportunities. Ultimately it wasn't enough."
Over his seven starts and eight appearances, Cassel is 119-of-204 for 1,276 yards, 5 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
Time will tell if he'll get another chance in the final two games.