Friday, November 19, 2004

Bledsoe stands pat

It was sad, sure it was. Anyone who call himself a Patriot fan now owes Drew Bledsoe a debt of gratitude. If not for the serendipitous timing of his arrival in New England, the Patriots would have jilted us for St. Louis long ago. The joy of recent championship seasons would never have been known.

But spare him your pity, because the man does not deserve it. In watching the lowest moment of Bledsoe's rapidly deteriorating career the other night - a 9 for 21, three-interception, 87-yard nationally-televised debacle - I was reminded again of something I realized during his last days in New England.

Drew Bledsoe never cared enough. About football, about winning. About doing what it took to become a better quarterback. And now he is paying the ultimate professional price. His career is in a tight spiral - right down the toilet.

Bledsoe always was such a stand-up guy, always accountable for his flaws and failings . . . yet he did nothing to correct them, ever. He's still immobile, he still pats the ball like it's his favorite kitty, his mechanics still are woefully out of alignment, he still has the footwork of a newborn fawn, he still can't throw a screen pass without one-hopping it, he still locks on to his No. 1 receiver time and again. Which may be why he hit Troy Brown between the 8 and the 0 the other night - once your go-to guy, always your go-to guy.

Toward the end of his run with the Pats, I found myself wondering if his reliable accountability was a defense mechanism, a conscious or subconscious way of reminding us how much he really, really cared. By taking the blame, he avoided receiving his share. How many times did we hear the same speech after every kick-in-the-nuts loss during the Carroll Years - this one's on my shoulders, I'll take the blame, blah blah yada yada. He may have sounded sincere, but football never meant enough to him to turn his words into actions, to fully commit to improving. He always bolted to his ranch in Montana as soon as the season ended, ostensibly to get away from football for a while. Six months later he'd come to camp 10 pounds heavier and looking like the love child of Sasquatch and Kris Kristofferson.

This professional indifference becomes all the more galling when contrasting Bledsoe's approach with that of the man who claimed his job. For all Tom Brady has accomplished in his four NFL seasons, damned if he doesn't still come back improved in some way every year. Look how well he throws deep now, or how deceptively elusive he is in the pocket, or how his shoulders have broadened. He's had it all - two Super Bowls MVP awards, countless magazine covers, the hot brunette from Coyote Ugly - and it only makes him work harder and want more.

There is no offseason getaway for him. The only Montana matters to Brady is a quarterback whose legacy he's driven to exceed.

Bledsoe? His legacy was exceeded long ago. Sunday was just one more sad reminder.

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