Disappointed Bledsoe will step back

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 1, 2002

AP and staff reports

NEW ORLEANS – Drew Bledsoe had 15 minutes at the podium Thursday, perhaps his last turn in the spotlight as a member of the New England Patriots.

Friday, February 01, 2002

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NEW ORLEANS – Drew Bledsoe had 15 minutes at the podium Thursday, perhaps his last turn in the spotlight as a member of the New England Patriots.

”There’s a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things,” he said. ”In this particular situation, the right thing is to step back and accept a different role from the one I’m accustomed to.”

Just 13 hours earlier, he got the message he dreaded from coach Bill Belichick: Tom Brady would start the Super Bowl instead of him.

Once Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams is over, Bledsoe will think more about whether he wants to stay with the Patriots.

”My future right now is one game,” said the best quarterback in the team’s history. ”The only part of my football career that has any importance right now is this game on Sunday. What happens after that, you know, we’ll see.”

So will Scott Pioli, the Patriots director of player personnel.

”We’re not going to discuss it until the end of the season,” he said.

Brady started the last 16 games in which the Patriots went 13-3. In the last one, a 24-17 win over Pittsburgh, Bledsoe played well after Brady left late in the first half with a sprained left ankle.

Brady said his ankle was sore and tender and he’d probably wear a brace Sunday. And if he can’t play the whole game, Bledsoe is ready to step in.

That’s what happened last Sunday, a bittersweet day for the youngest passer in NFL history to throw for 10,000 yards.

”Having been part of it, a victory, that feels good,” said Bledsoe, who lost his starting job after a blood vessel in his chest was sheared late in the second game of the season. ”It felt great but it also made it a little bit harder to step back into the other role.”

For Bledsoe, ”it’s probably one of the toughest years of his life,” said friend and linebacker Tedy Bruschi. ”He’s dealt with it great for such a long time. I’m sure he can deal with it for three more days.”

Bledsoe was in the same position as Brady, in the same city, six years ago. He led the Patriots to the Super Bowl, but they lost to Green Bay 35-21.

”He told me one of the most miserable things of his career was losing the Super Bowl,” Brady said. ”As long as we win, whether I’m playing, whether I’m watching, it doesn’t matter to me.”

Bledsoe can take comfort knowing that Belichick reviewed his options thoroughly before choosing. Steve Belichick knows how analytical his son is.

”He studies, he is organized, and he doesn’t make haphazard decisions, even when he was a kid,” said Belichick’s father, an assistant football coach for 33 years at the Naval Academy.

Bledsoe also is cool and rational, useful attributes as he considers his future. Owner Robert Kraft said the team could fit both quarterbacks under the salary cap but would consider ”blockbuster” offers.

Teams that could use a quarterback of Bledsoe’s caliber include Chicago, Washington, Seattle, Carolina and Cincinnati.

Washington’s cap situation is better than Chicago’s, which also will have to pay young, accomplished players a lot of money in the near future.

Bledsoe is from Washington, but Seattle has made a commitment to Matt Hasselbeck. If the Patriots consider Bledsoe’s wishes, they’d be unlikely to send him to Carolina and Cincinnati, two weak teams.

But first, he has a game to prepare for, and the Rams don’t care who plays quarterback.

”Both are pocket passers,” St. Louis defensive coordinator Lovie Smith said. ”Once it was established (Brady) was healthy, we assumed he was going to play. Bledsoe may play, but it’s not going to change what we do.”

A limited role, or none at all, probably won’t change Bledsoe’s perspective on what happened.

”Every quarterback, if you play long enough, goes through some very difficult times,” he said. ”I feel like the Patriots are a great organization, and it’s meant a lot to me to be a part of that organization.”