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JUDGE: Stand-up Bledsoe willing to take a seat for team

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Clark Judge

 
   
 

NEW ORLEANS

Five years ago, Drew Bledsoe demonstrated his worth as a quarterback when he led the New England Patriots to the Super Bowl. Now that they¿re back — about to play in the same building where they lost Super Bowl XXXI — Bledsoe¿s in the process of making another statement. Only this one has nothing to do with what¿s happening on the field and everything to do with what¿s not. And what¿s not happening is Bledsoe. He doesn¿t start, and he hasn¿t since he was hurt in the second game of the season. In fact, he¿s played only once in the last 16 games, taking over for Tom Brady when he sprained his left ankle in last weekend¿s defeat of Pittsburgh. At last report, Brady was walking without trouble and wasn¿t concerned about practicing Wednesday. That is good news for the Patriots. But it is not necessarily good news for Bledsoe, who was asked how he¿d react to returning to the bench. ¿I¿d be very disappointed,¿ he said. ¿This is the Super Bowl. You play to play in this game, and not to be able to play would be a great, great disappointment.¿ Bledsoe left it at that, which is typical. He hasn¿t complained all season, and he¿s not about to start. Once, and not so long ago, the Patriots thought so much of him they signed him to a 10-year, $103-million contract. Then Bledsoe was hurt, disappeared from the scene and wasn¿t heard from again until last Sunday. He didn¿t complain while he rode the bench. He didn¿t throw a tantrum. He didn¿t steal anyone¿s seat on the team bus. And he didn¿t accuse his head coach of going soft on the opposing team. In short, he behaved unlike a lot of his NFL colleagues, which means he behaved exactly as you¿d expect Bledsoe to behave. ¿There¿s never been anything negative about him,¿ said fullback Marc Edwards. ¿You have to respect him so much for how he¿s handled things. He put the team first, and that is definitely not the way things happen in this day and age in sports. Now, it¿s all about me.¿ This year¿s Super Bowl is not about Bledsoe ... though it could be. He could use the NFL¿s greatest forum to demand a trade; to demand to start; to demand an explanation for what¿s happened to him — or, better, what¿s not happened. But he didn¿t make a scene when head coach Bill Belichick nailed him to the bench earlier this year, and he won¿t break character now. ¿There¿s a right way and a wrong way to approach things,¿ said Bledsoe. ¿Obviously, this is a difficult situation and something that I don¿t agree with. But, ultimately, it comes down to a choice you have to make. You can be selfish or you can do everything you can to help the team win.¿ I think we know which choice Bledsoe made. He shows up for work on time. He practices hard. He keeps his mouth shut. He supports Brady. And he is there for him on the sidelines, the first person to meet Brady when the quarterback leaves the field. Sure, the relationship between the two has been affected, but Bledsoe insisted they are still friends. ¿And we¿ll continue to be friends,¿ he said. ¿I know I can play this game, and I know I can play it at a very high level.¿ His teammates know that, too, but that¿s not the issue anymore. New England is 13-3 with Brady this year and lost only one of his last 11 starts. At this point, it¿s not a question of who¿s the better quarterback; it¿s a question of whom the team responds to, and that man seems to be Brady. Bledsoe doesn¿t have to like it, but he understands it, and that¿s more important. ¿Drew could¿ve easily divided the locker room and separated his guys from Tom¿s guys,¿ said linebacker Tedy Bruschi. ¿But he supported Tom and answered Tom¿s questions. There should be a No. 1 on his chest for the first-class individual he is. Believe me, he was having a tough time with this, but he always stayed the course.¿ He did on Tuesday, too, declining to answer reporters¿ queries about his future. It is expected that New England will try to peddle Bledsoe in the off-season, with Washington a frequently mentioned club, but Bledsoe postponed questions on the subject until after Sunday¿s game. ¿You know the guy wants to play badly, but he¿s handled the situation professionally,¿ said running back Antowain Smith. ¿Hey, in Buffalo Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie didn¿t like each other, and it was apparent. There is no controversy here.¿ But that¿s because Bledsoe won¿t allow it. He doesn¿t ask for attention, and, at this point, he doesn¿t even ask to start. Belichick backed Brady once before, and, barring a setback with Brady¿s ankle, there¿s no reason he won¿t back him again. Bledsoe understands that, too.
Super Salaries: Comparing the quarterbacks
Player Team Contract 2001 salary
Drew Bledsoe Patriots 10 years, $103 million $3.4 million
Tom Brady Patriots 3 years, $849,000 $298,000
Kurt Warner Rams 7 years, $46.5 million $1.5 million
¿With everything that¿s happened this year — with the loss of my quarterbacks coach, with the injury and with Sept. 11 — it made it a challenging year for me,¿ said Bledsoe. ¿Then, to get the opportunity to go back on the field and play the game in that setting (the AFC championship game) it all piled up and was pretty emotional. ¿I guess it¿s made me realize how much I appreciate and love this game. When I played in the Super Bowl I was 24 and had my whole career in front of me. As much as you try to resist it when you¿re young and successful you feel that this is the way it¿s always going to be; you¿re going to have a lot of chances to go to the Super Bowl. But now that I¿m coming back, been in the game nine years and had some ups and downs ... to win this game means a little more. Going through so much and realizing how hard it is to get here makes me appreciate it a lot more.¿ Drew Bledsoe might not play another down for New England. But he¿ll play another down for some NFL team, and you can stand up and cheer if you¿re the lucky winner. Drew Bledsoe is a success, and he didn¿t have to do anything this year to prove it. He had to do nothing, and, believe me, that wasn¿t easy. Clark Judge can be reached at his email address: cjudge@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Bills, Patriots, Chargers, Tom Brady, Antowain Smith, Drew Bledsoe, Marc Edwards, Doug Flutie

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