Drew Bledsoe is 28, entering his eighth NFL season, right about
when a pro quarterback's career should be taking off. He looks
weary. He's about to play for his third head coach, his fourth
offensive coordinator. He's tired of answering questions that
begin, "What happened...?"
"You try to shake off the past and move ahead," Bledsoe says. The
past, in his case, means the second half of the 1999 season. The
Patriots were sitting at 6-2 after eight games. Without much of a
rushing game to lean on, they ranked second in the NFL in passing
yards, and Bledsoe was atop the AFC quarterback rating charts
with a gaudy 97.9. Then the whole thing fell apart.
The Pats went 2-6 the rest of the way. They slumped to 10th in
passing yards, and only two teams (Philadelphia and Tampa Bay)
were less productive in the last eight games. Bledsoe's rating
dropped 22.3 points, his interceptions rose from four to 17, and
each week he got hammered. He ended the season as the NFL's
second-most-sacked quarterback, one behind Cleveland's Tim Couch.
There was plenty of blame to spread around. Bledsoe was accused
of holding the ball too long, then of trying to jam it into
coverage. Terry Glenn, the Pats' leading wideout, blames the
system. "Teams caught on to what we were doing," Glenn says. "Our
offense was based on timing, and in the second part of the
season, cornerbacks were sitting on my routes, actually telling
me what I was going to run: 'Now it's a comeback,' 'Now it's a
skinny post,' like that.
"We changed alignments, started putting me in the backfield or
motioning me a little more, but it was basically the same core
offense once the ball was snapped."
"We were so set in our philosophy," Bledsoe says, "that teams had
a pretty good idea what we were going to do. The zone blitz hurt
us. They'd blitz, then sit in front of our hot routes, so you'd
just hang in there and take the sack."
Offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese caught a lot of heat,
naturally, but in St. Louis, Zampese's disciple Mike Martz was
using the same system to win the Rams a Super Bowl trophy--with
different players, of course.
There's the problem. New England's offensive line was mediocre.
Worst of all, Bledsoe's security blanket for years, tight end Ben
Coates, went belly-up in his eighth NFL season. His speed was
gone. His route-running was ragged. He couldn't shake the
coverage. "I'd see two or three games where he wouldn't have a
catch," Bledsoe says. "I'd think, My god, I've got to get him the
ball. Then I'd try to jam it in there, and the pass would be
Well, there's a new coach in town, Bill Belichick, and a new
offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis, who has worked with
Belichick on three staffs (Giants, Patriots, Jets). "Charlie's
idea is to present as many different formations and personnel
groupings and still do the things we do best," Bledsoe says.
But it still comes down to personnel, and the Patriots have the
shorts in that department. Shawn Jefferson, the closest thing to
a possession receiver Bledsoe had last year, is gone. The
offensive line will still struggle unless some rookie sleepers
come through. Top draft pick Adrian Klemm, a tackle, suffered a
torn knee ligament in camp. The running game doesn't scare
The defense, solid last year, will be even better under
Belichick. When he was hired, people somehow felt that a new and
tougher approach would cure all ills. It doesn't exactly work
Nine years ago Dick MacPherson, a nice guy, a "players' coach"
(whatever that means), replaced Rod Rust, a taskmaster. The
players celebrated. MacPherson treats us like men, they said.
After two disastrous seasons Bill Parcells replaced MacPherson.
Great, said the players, discipline at last. Four years later
Pete Carroll, another players' coach, replaced Parcells. The
Patriots had wearied of Parcells's whip-cracking. Now they were
happy. Pete respects us, they said. He treats us like men. After
the Pats fell apart last year, Belichick was brought in for
Carroll. The players celebrated. Ah, discipline. Nothing like it.
And so it goes. The never-ending personality parade. "Up and
down, up and down, it changes your mentality as a team," Glenn
says. "It can hurt you, but it can help, too."
"I guess I've mellowed some since my days with Parcells on the
Giants and my days in Cleveland," Belichick says. "But actually,
all this emotional stuff wears out after a while. What motivates
the players is belief in your system."
Belichick has his work cut out for him. --P.Z.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER UNDER SIEGE In 1999's final eight games Bledsoe was hit hard by critics and opposing defenders alike.
COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY THIES
SEPT. 3 TAMPA BAY
11 at N.Y. Jets (Mon.)
24 at Miami
OCT. 1 at Denver
15 N.Y. JETS
22 at Indianapolis
29 Open date
NOV. 5 BUFFALO
12 at Cleveland
23 at Detroit (Thurs.)
DEC. 4 KANSAS CITY (Mon.)
10 at Chicago
17 at Buffalo
1999 Record 8-8 (tied for 4th in AFC East)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 23/10/18; defense 21/7/8
2000 Schedule strength
NFL rank: 6 (tie)
Opponents' 1999 winning percentage: .539
Games against playoff teams: 9
PLAYER TO WATCH
In 1996 Tedy Bruschi came to the Patriots as a rookie defensive
end. The Patriots checked his height, a bit more than 6 feet, and
his weight, 245, and told him he was now a linebacker. "I didn't
know what a hook drop was," he says, "or a flat drop." He knew
how to get downfield under kicks and punts, though, and he used
his speed and strength as a situation rusher to work his way into
the starting lineup as a weakside linebacker. Now coach Bill
Belichick thinks the fifth-year pro is ready to bust out. "He'll
be on the field in practically every situation, every package
we're in," Belichick says. "He's smart and he's strong. What he
isn't is 6'3". So what? Neither is Zach Thomas."
PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1999 STATISTICS
Coach: Bill Belichick
First season with Patriots (36-44 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Drew Bledsoe 22 539 att. 305 comp. 56.6% 3,985 yds.
9 TDs 21 int. 75.6 rtg.
RB Raymont Harris[*]155 79 att. 228 yds. 2.9 avg. 10 rec.
68 yds. 6.8 avg. 1 TD
RB J.R. Redmond (R) 142 224 att. 1,085 yds. 4.8 avg. 12 rec.
97 yds. 8.1 avg. 13 TDs
FB Tony Carter 325 6 att. 26 yds. 4.3 avg. 20 rec.
108 yds. 5.4 avg. 0 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Terry Glenn 55 69 rec. 1,147 yds. 4 TDs
WR Troy Brown 145 36 rec. 471 yds. 1 TDs
WR Chris Calloway 214 22 rec. 314 yds. 1 TD
TE Eric Bjornson 251 10 rec. 131 yds. 0 TDs
K Adam Vinatieri 211 29/30 XPs 26/33 FGs 107 pts.
PR Troy Brown 145 38 ret. 10.7 avg. 0 TDs
KR Kevin Faulk 200 39 ret. 24.2 avg. 0 TDs
LT Bruce Armstrong 6'4" 295 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Derrick Fletcher 6'6" 348 lbs. 0 games 0 starts
C Damien Woody 6'3" 315 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Max Lane 6'6" 320 lbs. 16 games 6 starts
RT Greg Robinson-Randall6'5" 339 lbs. 11 games 11 starts
LE Bobby Hamilton 7 tackles 0 sacks
DT Brandon Mitchell 48 tackles 3 sacks
NT Chad Eaton 54 tackles 3 sacks
RE Willie McGinest 74 tackles 9 sacks
LB Chris Slade 94 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
LB Ted Johnson 38 tackles 2 sacks
LB Tedy Bruschi 106 tackles 2 sacks
CB Ty Law 57 tackles 2 int.
SS Lawyer Milloy 120 tackles 4 int.
FS Tebucky Jones 17 tackles 0 int.
CB Antonio Langham 29 tackles 0 int.
P Lee Johnson 90 punts 41.5 avg.
 New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)
THE BOOK an opposing team's scout sizes up the Patriots
"Of all the changes on this team, the one that scares me most,
as the guy whose team has to play them, is Bill Belichick. The
Patriots had a good defense last year. Now it'll be better.
Belichick is his own man now. He'll be running the team without
interference from a head coach or an owner. It's a good
situation for him. Another scary thing is that he's been in the
division for four years; he knows all the personnel....
Offensively, the Patriots will try to run the ball, more through
discipline than talent. They don't have a runner who worries
you. They haven't had a good offensive line for years. The
quarterback has gone from outstanding to falling apart, all
within one season. Drew Bledsoe is at the crossroads. His
confidence is low, but he's probably excited now with the new
staff.... I respect Terry Glenn's talent, but I don't trust him.
He can burn you, but you never know what he's gonna be like on
any given Sunday.... Watch Tony Simmons at the other wideout. He
has dropped the ball, but if he puts it all together, he could