Patriots Look To Brady To Replace Fallen Leader

Bob George
September 25, 2001 at 5:20 pm ET

The phrase “Go Blue!” might mean more in Foxborough, Massachusetts than in Ann Arbor, Michigan right now.

Tom Brady and his Alma Mater’s athletic slogan are now front and center in Patriot Nation. Brady, who replaced Brian Griese as Michigan quarterback, has been thrust into the starting role for the Patriots. Like the Wolverines, the Patriots also wear blue uniforms. So, one could yell “Go Blue!” at Brady, and it will definitely fire the guy up a bit.

Trouble is, you might want to scream “Go Drew!” instead of “Go Blue!”. Bearing in mind the recent significance check the sporting world received at the hands of terrorists, Drew Bledsoe deserves a bit of your thoughts right now. His condition is quite a bit worse than some little owie. It’s serious enough to make everyone take a step back and wonder about the long term health of The Franchise.

And the long term fortunes of the team, too. We’ll catch that later.

Bledsoe has a collapsed lung, according to a WBZ-TV report that has not yet been substantiated by the Patriots. This whole deal has been an extraordinary chain of events, ranging from a perceived benching to a condition that will make you gulp once or twice. One now must concentrate on how okay Bledsoe is, rather than how will Brady fare against the Colts on Sunday.

In the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game, the Patriots had the ball at their own 19. On first down, Marc Edwards dropped a flat pass over the middle that was underthrown to begin with. On second down, Bledsoe hit Bert Emanuel on a slant in route. Jet coach Herman Edwards challenged the call, saying Emanuel trapped the ball. Replays concurred. Third and ten.

And then came the fateful play. Bledsoe dropped back, and was immediately flushed out of the pocket. With no one open to throw to, he began to roll to his right and then tore up the right sideline. He aimed for the first down marker at the 29. Mo Lewis was waiting for him at the 27.

Splat. The Jet linebacker gave Bledsoe a Hardy Brown special and knocked him out of bounds, two yards shy of the first down. Bledsoe went down in a heap, and did not get up for about three minutes. Your first thought was that he was knocked unconscious, then perhaps you thought concussion. Bledsoe was slow in getting up, but get up he did. You likely thought he was done for the night, based upon how awful he looked laid out there on the Foxborough Stadium lawn.

Bledsoe did play one more series, then Brady came in for the final set. Word reached the CBS broadcast booth that Bledsoe was pulled because of a “coaches’ decision” (a good Jimy Williams answer), and not because of the injury. This decision was pretty much met with a positive response to all persons not named Dan Dierdorf. Bledsoe had been having a horrid game, and a benching looked like it was in order. Patriot Nation had to be astonished that Bill Belichick actually sat Bledsoe down in favor of Brady.

It wasn’t until later that we learned a good chunk of the truth. This was no benching. No coaches’ decision. News videos showed Bledsoe on a guerney being hauled off to a waiting ambulance, ready to be taken to MGH. Bob Lobel of WBZ-TV reported on Sports Final that Bledsoe’s ribs were cracked. This was the first we had heard of the injury being of this nature.

Monday morning, more news leaked out. Reports of there being internal bleeding were released. One report said that Bledsoe severed an artery in his lung. A tube was inserted into Bledsoe’s chest cavity to remove two pints of blood.

Now, this evening, Lobel reports that Bledsoe suffered a collapsed lung, and faces possible season-ending surgery. For now, it would be nice for all Bledsoe bashers out there to close their mouths for a while and say a few prayers for this guy.

One thing you can never call Bledsoe is soft. You can never dress this guy down for lack of guts. Maybe you thought Bledsoe would get this kind of a hit one day because of a sack. Instead, he got hit by doing something that Edwards, Antowain Smith, J.R. Redmond or Kevin Faulk should be doing.

Sure, Bledsoe had a bad day Sunday. Maybe you thought he should have been yanked for cause only, and not for injury. But you cannot slight Bledsoe for wanting to do whatever it took to win the game. He has run this kind of sideline route before (he did against Cincinnati two weeks ago and got a first down). He does it largely to set a good example on how to play hard, and to fire his teammates up.

For this, Bledsoe sacrificed his body, and did so in a very painful and perhaps life-threatening way. He did it in front of firefighters and policemen, and a crowd that still has the World Trade Center on its mind. This wasn’t like working at Ground Zero, but for a football equivalent, this was rather close.

It would have been nicer if reports concerning Bledsoe had been more forthright and accurate in the early going. It seems foolish right now that speculation was rampant about Belichick pulling Bledsoe for exclusively benching reasons. CBS’s Dierdorf told the world that Bledsoe was benched, not taken out due to injury. Someone told a whopper of a fib, and one has to wonder what the Patriots have to gain by making the truth about Bledsoe so hard to discover.

Right now, this is not about how well Brady will do, and if this season is lost. This is about Bledsoe, and his total recovery from this severe trauma. This is not about Bledsoe’s quick return, but about his long term well being. This is not about more excuses for Belichick and his staff. This is about Maura and the kids not losing their husband and father so early in life.

Unfortunately, sooner or later it will be about Brady.

Those who still belong to the Michael Bishop Fan Club held a rally today for the erstwhile quarterback’s swift return to Foxborough. Don’t expect that to happen. Brady has been named by Belichick to start Sunday against Indianapolis.

If nothing else, this injury to Bledsoe could be, believe it or not, the best thing to happen to the Patriots for the long term. One of two things will happen thanks to this calamity. Brady, Damon Huard, or someone else will prove that Bledsoe really is the wrong quarterback for this team. Or, Bledsoe will be vindicated once and for all. People will never again doubt that he is The Franchise, and will be until the day he leaves the Patriots for good.

Finally, Patriot Nation will get to see how well a great August quarterback does when things really count. Much of Patriot Nation will still be wishing that Bishop were getting this shot. But it will be Brady, not the former Kansas State prospect who stunk out the joint in Europe this spring.

The Patriots are very high on Brady, and Sunday he will get a shot to see if he measures up. While at Michigan, he shared the starting duties with Drew Henson, now in the New York Yankees organization. Despite never shaking off Henson as a quarterback rival in Ann Arbor, Brady was drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. Now, Brady gets his shot to see if Lloyd Carr should have given Brady more playing time at The Big House at Stadium and Main.

The last time Bledsoe missed a good chunk of action, John Friesz filled in. It was last year, and Friesz did so well that the Patriots immediately went out and got Huard after the season ended. Before that, Scott Zolak spelled Bledsoe at the end of the 1998 season while Bledsoe was recovering from a broken finger. Zolak played well against San Francisco, then went to sleep against the Jets and in the playoffs against Jacksonville. Like Friesz, Zolak was gone at season’s end.

You literally have to go back to Tony Eason in 1985 to find any effective relief quarterback help, and even that was tainted. Eason led the Patriots to Super Bowl XX, but one of Raymond Berry’s biggest blunders that day was in not starting Steve Grogan, who had recovered from his injury by that time. The petrified Eason was thrown to the lions…er, rather, the Bears. You know the rest.

Simply put, Brady does not have history on his side. Earl Morrall never played for the Patriots. Neither did Don Strock, Danny White or even Clint Longley. All Brady has is great collegiate pedigree and a pretty good August arm. That’s about it.

Anything else Brady has, we’ll simply have to wait until Sunday.

We know what Bledsoe has. Sometime during the draining of blood inside Bledsoe’s chest cavity, some doctor had to check Bledsoe’s guts out and regard them with awe and respect. Let’s hope all of Patriot Nation has the good sense to do the same, without cutting Bledsoe open to see for themselves.



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