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Sunday’s Real Quarterback Problem

Bob George
Bob George on Twitter
21 years ago at 6:48 pm ET
Posted Under: 2001 Patriots Season

Drew Bledsoe supposedly can play Sunday night.

Words to die by? Unraveling of the 2001 Patriot season? Tom Brady’s doing so well, and now Bledsoe’s going to come in and louse everything up?

Can’t you just see it now. Bill Belichick starts Bledsoe, on national television, in a big game against the St. Louis Rams. Through his rose-colored glasses, he sees Bledsoe put up 450 yards passing thanks to his new offensive line and running game. The Patriots score five or six touchdowns. Brady goes back to permanent clipboard duty and dreams about what might have been.



Foxborough Stadium
Foxborough, Mass.


Sunday 11/18/01
8:30 PM EDT


ESPN, WCVB Channel 5 in Boston


Channel 206, 941

Team Records:

Patriots 5-4
Rams 7-1

Latest Line:

Rams by 8

But when Belichick takes off those glasses, he sees that the other quarterback broke Norm Van Brocklin’s single-game passing record, and the other team scored fifty-something on his vaunted defense. Belichick gets booed as he leaves the field because Brady would have put up sixty-something.

This fanciful raving is a massive perversion of what is likely to happen Sunday night at Foxborough Stadium.

Every Patriot article written this week said something relating to a “quarterback controversy” in New England. Brady has been given the start, but Bledsoe has been cleared to play. Bledsoe wants his old job back, but it’s Brady’s to lose right now.

There’s just one problem. Any discussion about quarterbacks in Sunday night’s game is worthless if the focal point of the discussion is only about Brady and Bledsoe.

Forget these two for a second. We’ve got a more pertinent and important topic for discussion. Like, how in the world is the Patriot defense going to deal with the Greatest Show On Earth? And its ringmaster, Kurt Warner?

Quarterback controversy? If Warner does against New England what he’s capable of, you’ll have more Ty Law and Otis Smith on your minds than Brady and Bledsoe. Law may look like a mangy mutt at night’s end, and Smith may look like Kellen Winslow after the epic 1981 playoff game between his Chargers and the Dolphins.

In other words, let’s stick with what will really make the difference in this game. If the Patriots cannot deal with Warner, nothing any Patriot quarterback does will amount to a hill of beans.

Warner was a world champ two years ago. Last year he was hurt, and his team only went as far as the first playoff round. Now he is healthy, and his Rams are 7-1. Care to make a futures bet on the NFC champ?

Warner burst on the NFL scene in 1999, from Iowa by way of arena football. He is to NFL quarterbacks what Harry S. Truman was to the presidency, in that “Truman once said that any man can become president. In 1945, any man did.” Warner became a symbol of small town boy made good, and provided one of the best feel-good sports stories of recent times.

Warner was unique. He was laughed at because of his football roots. He was snickered at because he was more known for his shelf-stocking ability. He was unfairly chided because some thought his wife wasn’t attractive enough. Then, he was disrespected because many thought that his 1999 season was a total fluke.

Fluke? Today, Warner is a bit better paid than 1999, and is simply the best quarterback in the game today. His team is emerging as a clear favorite to win the NFC, and beyond.

Yes, he has the Bill Belichick of offense as his head coach. Yes, he has the quickest fleet of wideouts in the business. Yes, he has Marshall Faulk in the backfield to give his arm an occasional rest. But Warner still has to run the offense, and get the ball to these speed-burners.

Trying to defense the Rams will be the severest test of Belichick’s young Patriot coaching career. Belichick may not have the personnel on paper to do what he needs to do. Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Ricky Proehl and Az-Zahir Hakim make Eric Moulds or Marvin Harrison seem like tortoises.

And if they do, then what about Faulk? It’s not likely that Kevin will be the preeeminent Faulk in Sunday’s game.

The Patriots have three things working in their favor, which could spell their only path to victory: Belichick’s common sense, the weather, and the Ram defense.

Starting Brady gives the Patriots their best shot at a win. We’re only too happy that Belichick, who is gaining momentum when football experts begin to talk about Coach Of The Year, agrees with this. Starting Bledsoe is simply not the right thing to do. Brady has the hot hand, and Bledsoe is not game-ready yet.

The weather for Sunday night is still supposed to be in the 40s. Too bad it couldn’t be in the 20s. Or even better, a threat of snow. But get the Rams out of their warm and cozy dome, and the Patriots have an edge. If cold weather hampers Warner in establishing a passing game, the Patriots can play up and contain Faulk, without a glaring chance of Warner blitzkrieging the Patriot secondary.

But the real key to the game is how Brady picks apart the Ram defense, and the chance of doing this ought to be fairly good if Charlie Weis gives him a good plan.

The Rams got a big boost with the acquisition of longtime Cardinal Aeneas Williams at cornerback. The other cornerback, Dexter McCleon, is one of the most overrated players in the league. The Patriots should attack McCleon and often, as he is susceptible to giving up the big play. Despite his gaudy pick totals, he often makes poor reads and botches coverages.

The front seven is led by Grant Wistrom and London Fletcher, but they lost Kevin Carter, D’Marco Farr and Mike Jones in the offseason. Despite the recent good play of this group, this is not a squad that will harass Brady if the blocking is at least adequate to good. Antowain Smith could likely see his third 100-yard game unless the Patriots find themselves down by two touchdowns or more.

The weather might neutralize Warner’s full ability, and Brady does not have a killer defense to play against. This does not have to be a guaranteed Ram rout, as some experts predict.

Brady will be scrutinized in this game more than any other. It will be his first national exposure, and a curious football nation will be intently watching. If he has come off as cool and unruffled thus far, he’ll need all of that cool come game time.

On the other hand, nothing Brady does might matter at all if the defense can do nothing about Warner and his Ack-Ack squad. Warner may be called into sniper duty in Afghanistan any day now.

Right now, just give the clipboard to Bledsoe and tell him to heal slowly.

And give lots of vitamins to all the Patriot secondary.

Because the real quarterback issue Sunday night is Warner, and Warner alone.

Posted Under: 2001 Patriots Season

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