So why do it?
"Three reasons," explains Bledsoe. "One, we haven't established the running game [New England has the 27th-ranked rushing offense in the league]. Two, we've been remarkably successful with the pass [first in the league]. And three, we've been in some shoot-outs [the first loss to Miami, a 38-35 loss to the Buffalo Bills, a 31-28 win over the Cincinnati Bengals]."
Indeed, going into Sunday's game, 16 of the Patriots' last 17 games had been decided by seven points or less. "We're always under the gun," says Parcells. "We're never in complete control."
And that's killing the control-meister in him. While scoffing at a recent report that he is not healthy, Parcells, who had bypass surgery two years ago, admits, "The last couple [of losses] have eaten away at me."
And this has made him tough on his quarterback. "I've never had a quarterback this young," he says. "I don't know him well enough, and I haven't seen him establish enough consistency to know when he's completely disoriented. With Phil Simms [his old Giant quarterback], when it wasn't there, I knew it was fishy. Bledsoe hasn't played enough to establish a tendency. He's learned some things, but not all of the things he does are good."
The relationship between the callow quarterback and the crusty coach is an interesting one. Parcells is wired tighter than a new piano; Bledsoe is a person who, as his mother, Barbara, says, "was born calm." Moreover, adds Barbara, whose opinions jibe with those of just about anyone who has met Drew, "he is a steady, easygoing, genuinely nice person." Trying to come up with an early example of Drew's good nature, she fixes on this: "His brother, Adam, is six years younger than Drew. When Adam was a baby and I was having a hard day with him, Drew would say, 'I'll take him, Mom.' He'd pick Adam up, and they'd walk around and look at plants and things."
"He's on his way up," grumbles Parcells, "but people are putting him farther up than they should. We have a tendency to make the ascension process much quicker than it should be, equaled only by the rate of acceleration of the decline."
All of this talk tends to make Bledsoe a trifle uneasy. "Parcells, he's a smart guy," he says, "but he turns the pressure up in practice when we're not winning. That's the hard part. All the coaches are so uptight. You almost never see me fired up and ticked off. I still look at this as fun. So the nice thing is that, when I'm on the field, I'm in that sanctuary, I'm in that place where nobody can touch me. Out there everything's under my control."
For Bledsoe the adjustments he must make to join the elite corps of NFL leaders are almost all mental. He stands behind the line, tall and cool, seeing everything like an air-traffic controller, and it is only his decisions on where to send his flights that are sometimes ill-advised. His 14 interceptions (to go with 14 touchdown passes) are a sign of impetuous youth as much as they are a sign of the Patriots' need to throw the ball too much.
"I'm aware that I'm young," Bledsoe says. "People's expectations and concept of who I am fail to take into account the fact that I'm only 2½ years from being a teenager."