FOXBORO, MA — Quarterback Drew Bledsoe has been medically cleared for a return to the football field, but now the big topic will become whether or not he should be able to return to the line-up.
Head coach Bill Belichick said on Monday that the first step for Bledsoe will simply be getting him back into the practice routine and to get him working with the offense again.
“I spoke with the doctors this morning and Drew’s going to be given clearance to resume full practice and be cleared to play in games starting this week,” said Belichick on Monday. “He’s taken several steps now in his rehabilitation and trying to resume back-to-normal activities, the next step will be for him to get more work with the defensive scout team, get more practice snaps, and to begin to get some work with the offense and try to rebuild the timing aspect there with running our offense rather than just running scout team plays.”
“We’ll start doing that on Wednesday and just evaluate it from there.”
Bledsoe lost 20-pounds following the injury he sustained in week two against the Jets after taking a hit by linebacker Mo Lewis. After the game it was learned that the hit had caused internal bleeding in which he reportedly lost two liters of blood, and as a result he’s been out the last seven weeks recovering from the injury.
It’s hard for anyone to fathom that he’s ready to return considering how much weight he’s lost as well as whether or not his body is ready to be hit by 250 pound football players. Belichick is aware of that concern, and says he won’t put Bledsoe back into the game until the doctors are sure he’s ready.
“Until I get that clearance [for Bledsoe to be hit], he will not go in the game,” said Belichick on Monday. “I’m not putting him in the game until medically he’s cleared to be able to take whatever contact he can take.”
“That’s not my decision, that’s not my call. I can’t say medically whether he will or won’t, but when medically he is cleared, then we’ll go by what we see.”
“It’s black or it’s white, there’s no gray [area] on this.”
When he does finally get the green light for Bledsoe to begin competing for his job he’s going to have to make a difficult decision. Tom Brady is 5-2 since taking over for Bledsoe and has New England back in contention in a division that now appears to be wide open. While Bledsoe has been cleared to play, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s ready to return. Belichick won’t be able to make a decision until he sees him back practicing on the field.
“As far as bringing a player back from a significant period where he’s been out of action, the only thing I can evaluate is what we see on the field,” said Belichick. “I mean we can sit around and talk about it all day, but what it comes down to is his performance on the field and that’s what it will be evaluated on.”
“I don’t have a time frame, it’s not this Friday, it’s not four Friday’s from now, we’ll see how it goes.”
Bledsoe has been practicing somewhat the last couple of weeks, primarily running some scout team plays, but not much else. When asked how he felt about what he had seen so far from him Belichick said that it wasn’t fair to evaluate him because he wasn’t yet ready to go at full strength.
“I don’t think it’s fair to evaluate him on what he’s done so far because he hasn’t been fully cleared and fully ready to go,” said Belichick. “I don’t think it’s right to evaluate a player when he’s, let’s call it rehabbing, or whatever you want to call it, because then you get a perception of ‘well this is where he’s at’, and that’s not really where he’s at because he’s still just working his way back. He hasn’t been cleared to go yet so I don’t want to prejudge a situation where a guy’s not fully able to compete.”
Belichick has said repeatedly that he’ll go with whoever gives him the best chance to win, whether that’s Brady, Bledsoe, or whoever. Bledsoe may know the offense, but it’s likely he’ll be rusty and it will take some time to get back into the swing of things. It will also take him time to get back into game condition, and he’s going to have to both be in shape and be able to execute in order to be given a chance to compete for his spot.
“He hasn’t played in seven weeks,” said Belichick. “I know the offense, I can go out there and I know what to do in the offense, I can’t play quarterback.”
“It’s not about knowing the offense, it’s about being able to execute and perform it. That’s what it’s about for everybody. I mean I know what the tackle does too, I can’t play tackle.”
“It’s one thing to go out there and throw a few passes and rotate in with the other guys, it’s another thing to go out there and have to throw all of them in the whole game.”
Bledsoe played fairly well in his first game of the year against Cincinnati. In game one he had an interception free performance, finishing the day 22-of-38 for 241 yards and 2-touchdowns, but despite his numbers the Patriots still suffered a disappointing 23-17 loss. In that game New England started former wide receiver Bert Emanual, who the team has since sent packing. They also gave runningback J.R. Redmond playing time to allow him a chance to compete for a starting role, and left teammate Kevin Faulk, who has been very effective this season, inactive for the game.
They had a chance to win the game after Bledsoe marched them 11-plays for 94-yards and threw an 8-yard touchdown strike to tight end Jermaine Wiggins to pull them within 6 early in the fourth quarter. But with just under two minutes left he tried to connect with Bert Emanual who just couldn’t come up with the football. The ball then fell incomplete on fourth down following a pass attempt to Jermaine Wiggins, and the Bengals simply ran out the clock.
In game two a Marc Edwards Fumble helped set up the Jets only touchdown of the game, but Bledsoe found himself under a lot of pressure and wasn’t able to get much going. After driving down to the Jets 8-yard line, he threw an ill-advised pass in the endzone that was intercepted and ended a very good scoring opportunity for the Patriots. In their next possession he was knocked out of the game on a third down play while trying to run for a first down.
Since then it’s been all Tom Brady who has played extremely well in his absence. He lead them to a 3-1 record from that point on and set an NFL record for a rookie by throwing 162 straight passes without an interception to start his career heading into their week seven meeting against the Broncos. In that game he threw four interceptions in the fourth quarter and lost a tough 31-20 decision to Denver. But the young quarterback has responded, beating Atlanta the next week and then Buffalo on Sunday. He’s also seen improvement in the offensive linemen prior their win over Buffalo, as well as in their running game which now appears to have a legitimate threat in Antowain Smith.
Brady’s success leaves many buzzing over what they think Belichick should do now. Regardless of what people say, Belichick simply doesn’t care. With his team back in contention he maintains his stance on playing the guy who he thinks gives them the best shot at winning, regardless of how people may feel.
“People can talk about whatever they want to talk about,” said Belichick. “I’m not going to try to tell people not to talk about it or to talk about it or whatever, that’s not really what it’s about for me. It’s about trying to win a game and trying to put the players out there on a weekly basis that we feel like we can do it with, and that’s what it will always be about.”
“I think there’s a little bit of a sense, whether it be a quarterback or really in other sports as well of staying with something that’s successful and staying with a ‘hot hand’. I think if we had lost the last seven games that probably would look a little differently than winning five of the last seven, I wouldn’t disagree with that. But my decision is based on really where we are today and what I feel like is best for St. Louis.”
It will probably still be a while before Bledsoe is ready to come back, but with the way that Brady is playing there’s no reason to rush his return. Considering the severity of the injury he should take his time and continue lifting weights and working on getting back into shape. Brady has done a good job in his absence, but there’s no question he’ll need to work hard if he plans on taking back the spot he’s held for the last nine years.
Bledsoe probably won’t play this week, and maybe not even for a little while longer for that matter until he’s physically ready to get back on the field. In the meantime Brady is expected to start this week against St. Louis.
Until Bledsoe is fully ready to compete for his job, it will most likely be Brady who continues to get the starting nod. But when Bledsoe is finally 100%, the competition will begin and the best guy will always be the one who plays on Sunday. Belichick isn’t here to play favorites with either player, and in the NFL it all comes down to whether or not you win this week, not to what you’ve done the week before.
“I’m going to play the guy that I think gives us the best chance to win every week, that’s who it’s going to be,” said Belichick. “Whoever that is, that’s who it’s going to be.”
“Nobody cares about what happened last week or two weeks ago. The only thing anybody cares about is what’s going to happen against St. Louis, and that’s all I care about.”
Posted Under: 2001 Patriots Season