NEW ORLEANS — My God. The Chowds are back on Bourbon Street.
Was it just five years ago? Bill Parcells was more into the New York Jets than the Green Bay Packers. Brett Favre was just about to wipe his interception machine reputation off his slate in preparation for his “young gun” duel with Drew Bledsoe. Patriot Nation looked at Gilbert Brown and wondered if he also went by the nickname “Fridge”.
Naturally, this week will revolve around one word.
Victory? Good guess.
Hype? Only for media types
Give up? The answer is…Jambalaya!
Hey, this is the Big Easy. Why concern yourself with football when there is all this research to do concerning your party life? Type the word “jambalaya” into your favorite Internet search engine and see how many different recipes for the stuff you come up with. It’s not about who you root for. It’s about Rue Bourbon. It’s about the quality of your evenings. This is, as Otis Smith says, “The Big N-O”.
For Patriot fans, just serve them up a sizzling pan of quarterback controversy. Never mind the Cajun sauce. One bite of this stuff and they’ll spend the rest of the week trying to get the taste out of their mouth. Thanks to Lee Flowers, one of the biggest issues concerning the New England Patriots this season has come front and center once again, and it is as sizzling and as burning as it gets.
Flowers plowed into the left ankle of Tom Brady late in the first half of Sunday’s AFC Championship Game at Pittsburgh. Brady buckled under, and suffered an ankle sprain. He limped to the sidelines and never returned to the game.
Enter Bledsoe, who hadn’t seen live game action in just over four months. The Patriot veteran came out firing right away, completing his first three passes. The last of those was an 11-yard scoring toss to David Patten to make it 14-3 Patriots. Bledsoe finished the game with so-so stats, but walked off the field victorious, tearful, and on his way to his second career Super Bowl.
And now, Bill Belichick has to revisit the lingering question that has dogged him all year long. Brady or Bledsoe? With a world championship now on the line, this issue is now back on the skillet. And it will be the spiciest meal for anyone from the northeast all week long.
Credit Belichick for turning a “controversy” into a “mystery”. Belichick announced today that he will reveal his Super Bowl starter after Wednesday’s practice. But he had a gag order on Brady as early as before the end of Sunday’s game. When asked after the game how he was, Brady answered “I’m doing okay…that’s all coach wants me to say about it!” Who can blame Belichick for not wanting to let Rams head coach Mike Martz know exactly who he has to game plan against until the last possible moment?
The whole thing depends upon the left ankle of Brady. By “whole thing”, we really do mean the whole thing. Winning a Vince is exactly that, the whole thing. And which direction Belichick goes with this quarterback “whole thing” will turn out to be one of the more crucial decisions in the history of the New England Patriots.
So, which quarterback do you root for?
The young Michigan man who would set a record for being the most inexperienced quarterback in Super Bowl history, yet who also happens to be 14-3 in games he has started this year?
Or the veteran franchise quarterback who has thrown two Super Bowl touchdown passes and four Super Bowl interceptions, and who has seen live game action in only three contests this year?
Disclaimer: There is no way to answer this question and please everyone at the same time. There are as many reasons to start one guy as there is to start the other. As you read on, please be advised that you are getting Bob George’s take on this incredibly momentous decision. Like it, don’t like it, it’s up to you the reader. Just be glad you’re not Bill Belichick and chew on what I have to say. Spit it out, swallow it, that’s up to you.
That said, if Brady is healthy, he should absolutely, positively, without any reservations aforethought, be named the starting quarterback for the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Why Brady? Simple. He will give the Patriots the same thing he’s given them all year long: the best chance to win this game.
As much as you loved what Bledsoe did on Sunday, Brady is the better choice, and the best man to bring a Vince to New England. If it can be done against the heavily favored Rams, Brady will do it.
Bledsoe starts only if he is the one who gives the Patriots the best chance to win. That scenario presents itself if and only if Brady cannot go at all, or cannot go at a level that causes him to be the best choice at quarterback. This stems from the perceived train of thought on Sunday by Belichick, in that Brady seemed to be ready to be reinserted into the game but never was. Bledsoe at 100 percent was better than Brady at less than 100 percent.
Brady is the man that got the Patriots here to the Big Show. It’s like the old saying, “dance with what brung ya”. The Patriots have achieved near-mythical status with Brady at the helm. But even if you leave metaphysics out of it, Brady’s 2001 performance was good enough to get him to the Pro Bowl. Brady’s passer rating of 86.5 was good enough for third in the conference and sixth in the league. Naturally, the top rated passer in the NFL was the Rams’ Kurt Warner, with a rating of 101.4.
But even if you leave raw numbers out of it, Brady still warrants the call on Sunday. All season long, Brady has shown the maturity way beyond his years. He has answered every challenge thrown his way, and shut up all his detractors at every turn. Brady has shown a great ability to make smart decisions, read defenses well, and to handle himself well in the face of adversity.
But how in the Sam Hill do you not root for Bledsoe?
At game’s end on Sunday, you could see raw emotion written all over the face of Bledsoe. At the final gun, Bledsoe could be seen lying on the ground, cradling the football much like Michael Jordan cradled the basketball after his Chicago Bulls had won an NBA title in the year where Michael’s dad, James Jordan, was murdered. You looked at Bledsoe, and could not help but shed a tear yourself. Bledsoe’s tears had Mo Lewis, Dick Rehbein, Mac Bledsoe, and the agony of a painful season written all over them.
Bledsoe may yet leave the Patriots at the end of this year. What a better way for Bledsoe to conclude his Patriot career than a brilliant performance in the Super Bowl. And if he should win? Perhaps his Patriot career isn’t over at all. Either way, rooting “against” Bledsoe to start the Super Bowl is a tough thing to do. You want victory, but at what personal cost?
If Bledsoe leaves the Patriots after the season, his number eleven should be retired at the earliest possible moment. What with all that Bledsoe has been through this year, his conduct this season ranks among the most exemplary, and most team-first, behaviour seen anywhere in professional sports. Tedi Bruschi said it best when he said that one of the 1’s should be taken off his jersey, because in the eyes of his teammates, he truly is number one.
Bledsoe put his personal pride on the shelf this year, and did nothing but make Brady comfortable all season long. He became his personal mentor, and continued that generosity even after Belichick proclaimed Brady as the starter for the balance of the season. Patriot players were very forthcoming in their praise of Bledsoe for not causing a division among teammates when he was healthy enough to return. You could call it one of the greatest lessons in selflessness that most of us have ever seen.
But you can’t sugarcoat this decision, nor can you sugarcoat Bledsoe. After his fast start on Sunday, Bledsoe played well enough to lead his team to a victory, but on two occasions he made plays that were near disaster for the Patriots.
Early in the third quarter, Bledsoe was nearly sacked on a third and eight at the Steeler 33. Just as he was about to go down, he flipped a blind Bob Cousy special over his left shoulder. The hook shot/pass luckily fell incomplete, but the ensuing grounding penalty negated a holding call on Deshea Townsend and great field position for the Patriots. It was another classic case of Bledsoe trying to make a play, and winds up doing something totally foolish instead.
Then in the fourth quarter, Bledsoe had the ball at his own 20. On first down, he looked in the left flat for David Patten. He tossed the ball out there, but did not see Joey Porter in the vicinity. The ball hit Porter right in the hands, but Porter could not hold on to the football. Porter dropped a sure touchdown that would have knotted the game at 24.
But Bledsoe made a lot of great plays. He completed several clutch third down passes in the fourth quarter, including a beautiful 18-yard floater to Troy Brown on third and eleven. He never buckled, nor looked rusty at all after the long layoff. He came in, and it was like he had never left.
But can Bledsoe rattle off passing streaks of ten in a row and eight in a row like Brady did against Oakland? Can Bledsoe maintain the discipline to avoid the kooky decisions he sometimes makes under pressure? Can the Patriots pass up the chance to go with a younger guy with better feet and better ability to read defenses over the sentimental choice who is tougher than nails and has Super Bowl experience?
This is why this whole mess is out of the frying pan and back into the skillet.
Come Wednesday night, Belichick will provide the answer to this question, which comes under his job description and not yours or mine. This is what Belichick gets paid for. It’s his decision to make. Perhaps Belichick is hoping for Brady’s ankle to worsen, which will make the coach’s choice easier.
But if Belichick wants his first non-Tuna Vince, he should hope Brady’s ankle is good to go.
For Bledsoe, the decision to start Brady will hurt more than Lewis’ hit. To finally go to his second Super Bowl and not get to play will absolutely kill him. To that end, we all simply have to put it behind us and just think world championship.
There will someday be a special place in football’s Valhalla with Bledsoe’s name on it. He is a definitive warrior, with a spirit that no two-bit sportswriter can break. He is a consummate professional, one who deserves the highest of admiration of all Patriot fans on the planet. In this year of non-activity for Bledsoe, his legacy has richened such that he has rightfully ascended to the highest level of all the great Boston pro athletes in history.
But this week, we’re talking about a Vince. To that end, Vince’s last name needs to be Brady.
And Bledsoe needs to be Brady’s mentor for just one more week.
Toss all this in with some olive oil, stir-fry on high heat, and serve. Enjoy Nawlins, one and all, and Bon Appetite.