Posted: Sunday February 20, 2005 6:31PM; Updated: Sunday February 20, 2005 8:30PM
The Patriots are 32-2 since jettisoning Drew Bledsoe in favor of Tom Brady three years ago.
A very significant story for the future of Drew Bledsoe in Buffalo happened, of all times, during the coin flip before the season's last game against Pittsburgh.
Big game for Buffalo. Very big. A win over Pittsburgh, which would be resting some of its stalwarts, and the Bills were still in the playoff hunt. Winds were whipping up pretty strong that day -- 17 mph. Before he walked out to midfield for the flip, Bledsoe was advised by coaches to choose to defend the east goal if Pittsburgh won the toss and elected to receive. That way, the Steelers wouldn't be wind-aided when they took the ball. Pittsburgh won the toss. Pittsburgh elected to receive. Bledsoe said Buffalo would defend the west goal.
West? We told him east! The Bills sideline was stunned. What is God's name was Bledsoe doing? Bledsoe explained that when he got to midfield, it seemed to him the wind was whipping around differently than the way the coaches thought, and so he picked the opposite goal to defend. There was some anger toward Bledsoe on the sideline, and maybe it was just coincidental, but the Steelers scored 23 of their 29 points going from west to east that day -- and Bledsoe's decision backfired.
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Sometimes, coaches don't want players to think. They want players to do what they're told. Bledsoe defied the Buffalo staff that day, a sort of subtle defiance that began to irritate the Bills coaches the same way it had irritated Bill Belichick's staff four years earlier. That simple act didn't get Bledsoe unemployed. Three very big Bills losses this year (at New England, at Baltimore, and that Pittsburgh game), in which he threw zero touchdowns and eight interceptions, helped Mike Mularkey decide he'd be as well off playing J.P. Losman, a kid he knew had some mobility and, more important, would follow instructions.
Courageous move by Mularkey? I guess so. But Bledsoe has been average for a long time now. He wasn't worth a first-round pick when the Bills traded for him three years ago. He last led a team to the playoffs seven years ago. In his last five full seasons played, his teams have finished last, last, last, third and third in the AFC East. And now, in the wake of the Bills' whacking of the quarterback they were sure would lead them to the promised land, it is official: The single smartest personnel decision in the five-year Belichick/Pioli Era of New England Patriots history was trading Drew Bledsoe on draft day three years ago.
It seems almost cruel to say, because Bledsoe was a popular player during some heady football times in Boston -- on his way to being a Havlicek-, Orr- or Yastrzemski-type in Hub sports lore. But for several reasons, getting rid of him for Tom Brady three months after New England's first Super Bowl win propelled the Patriots to a run of greatness -- the Pats are 32-2 over their last 34 games, including two Super Bowl wins -- that is still alive today.
In fact, the best decision owner Bob Kraft may ever made in his glittery ownership history with the Patriots is one he almost certainly didn't want to make. Thirteen months after signing Bledsoe to what turned out to be an absolutely foolish contract (10 years, $103 million), Kraft allowed Belichick to trade him to Buffalo.