FOXBOROUGH — One thing is crystal clear about Sunday’s game against New Orleans.
One man’s reputation for leadership is squarely on the line. He has reached a point where the next few months or so will make or break his career. These final six games of this season could go a long way in determining this person’s entire NFL legacy.
You know of whom I speak, do you not? Let’s ask Joe Patriot Fan and see what he thinks.
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Of course, Drew Bledsoe. Right now, his leadership skills are useless, for if they were, he most assuredly would have been reinserted as Patriot starting quarterback the instant doctors proclaimed him ready for game action. Still in the prime of his career at age 29, he instead is going to be standing on the sideline with a clipboard, helping some other quarterback to succeed and to help the team to victory.
Bledsoe does this knowing full well that the better Brady plays, the more likely Bledsoe will finish his career somewhere other than Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Except that Bledsoe’s not the guy whose career is at stake, Joe.
Okay, then, it’s Tom Brady. How foolish of me.
You’ve seen young pro athletes get too much too soon, they fail, and their careers spiral downward. Brady set the pro football world on fire, got all the top interviews and the press, and looked almost too good to be true. But during the last few games, Brady has looked somewhat less than impeccable even though he is still 5-3 as Patriot starting quarterback.
Yikes. This is the week that Brady’s entire career will be judged by. If he flops Sunday against New Orleans, his career then isn’t worth a hill of beans. If he succeeds, start long term contract talks pronto. Offer at least eight mil per year and go from there.
You do know when we’re being facetious, we hope.
Because Brady isn’t the man on the spot either.
One more guess. Think about it this time before you blurt out your answer, Joe.
Joe sits and thinks, then just sits. He picks up the paper and sees this poll, with Bill Belichick getting nearly an 80% approval rating from a non-scientific panel of Internet fans. Nah, can’t be Bill Belichick, can it?
Belichick is at the peak of his Patriot popularity right now. His coaching job against some of the league’s finest quarterbacks thus far this season has been a marvel. His handling of the Terry Glenn situation has tried his patience, but his leadership has shone through. He has drafted some good people and signed some dynamite free agents thus far this season, and his team shows obvious signs of improvement from 2000.
What’s more, Belichick looks terrific in the face of this quarterback “situation” (we won’t use the “c” word — yet). Belichick has shown the necessary confidence in Brady, as well as the common sense to stick with the “hot hand”, with the man “who gives the Patriots the best chance to win”.
Belichick has done all the right things, said all the right things, and his team shows it. The 2001 Patriots are on the rise, and in this year of incredible AFC parity, are right in the thick of the playoff hunt at 5-5. They are coming off a disappointing loss to the Rams on Sunday night, but they held St. Louis to only 24 points and played Kurt Warner very tough.
So, it can’t possibly be Belichick, can it?
You have to make up your mind, Joe. Who is it?
Joe picks Brady.
Sorry, Joe. It’s Belichick.
This has not been a particularly good week for the Patriot head coach. His pronouncement of Brady as the starter for the rest of the season ranks among the boldest of coaching gambles in recent memory. It may also be one of the blunders unless everything breaks absolutely right.
Bledsoe is one awful angry customer right now. From Draft Day 1993 up until Tuesday, Bledsoe has always been the top dog in Foxborough, has always felt such, and has always been treated as such. But Belichick’s pronouncement of Brady being the starting quarterback for the long haul has to shake up someone like Bledsoe more than you or I will ever know.
Yet one problem sticks out more than any other in making this kind of decision, that being the likelihood that Belichick lied to Bledsoe. Integrity in a head coach is both underrated and of paramount importance. If Belichick indeed did lie to Bledsoe about his opportunity to win back his starting job once pronounced healthy, Belichick has set a dangerous and likely destructive precedent that could cause his coaching career to implode, Brady’s success totally nothwithstanding.
Red Auerbach had this to say about leadership in George Sullivan’s The Picture History of the Boston Celtics: “You’ve got to give (the players) leadership. My people knew, number one, that I’d go to bat for them on and off the court.” Belichick may no longer have the trust of his players if he did indeed lie to Bledsoe, and this issue could be the divisive element that defines a true quarterback…
…controversy. There, we said it.
If the rest of the team is stung by this possibility, they aren’t saying. Bryan Cox rose up this week in defense of his longtime mentor. Brady continues to speak as if his brain was designed by Bill Gates. The players seem to want to rally behind Brady and are focused on the New Orleans Saints this weekend.
Still, integrity in coaching has to be there for players to buy into what a coach is selling, and to play hard for that coach. A telltale sign of a residual effect will be how intense the defense looks versus some of their previous efforts this season. If bodies are flying all over the field, then perhaps Bledsoe stands alone in his anger.
To be fair, often times controversies of all kinds are given to overstating, overreacting, and misinterpretation. Maybe Belichick was straight with Bledsoe all along, and Drew is mad only because he wants to play and can’t. Perhaps, and this is what Joe Patriot Fan should really be rooting for, Belichick is saving Bledsoe for 2002, and forcing him to sit while he completely heals up. With Brady doing as well as he is, why rush Bledsoe back when you really don’t need to?
Some folks fear that Belichick is lapsing back into his Cleveland form, and that Bledsoe is the new Bernie Kosar. Belichick knows quarterback controversy, and he was smack dab in the middle of one of the biggest of last decade. Some folks blame Belichick’s handling of Kosar as the reason for his eventual ouster, but his Browns team shut down on him as the impemding move to Baltimore became closer.
If Bledsoe is just throwing a hissy fit, fine. Let him.
But if Belichick is not being straight with his players, start worrying.
Belichick is a very cunning and laconic man, just the kind of guy who can instantly turn into a psychopath who could beat a polygraph test. The man didn’t buy his genius at a Wal-Mart. Nobody could ever accuse Belichick of not having a plan.
If his plans don’t include Bledsoe, he should say so. And if they do, say so. It’s the first one that’s the toughie.
Maybe that’s what happened Tuesday. Bledsoe was promised the second and got the first.
Or maybe he was promised the second and won’t get it until next year. Who really knows. It isn’t worth it to even concern ourselves with it.
Besides, the man with all the pressure on him is Belichick, not you and me. And you can bet that that concerns the coach quite a bit.
In his position, if Belichick is not a leader, then he is nothing. Bledsoe can cry and Brady can bite his fingernails, but Belichick is the one that will be sweating bullets these next few weeks. This, like Pete Carroll’s Happy Acres strategy a few years back, is a plan that simply has to work, or else.
Hmmm. Happy Acres failed. Not good, coach.
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