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5 New England Patriots If Drew Bledsoe ever needed to play like a $103 million man, it's now

When the readers of Patriots Football Weekly were asked to select
the franchise's team of the century two years ago, the
quarterback they picked is the one who will lead New England this
fall, Drew Bledsoe. It seemed kind of strange, picking a guy who
has certainly been respected during his career but has never
captured the hearts of the Patriots faithful.

Doug Flutie and Butch Songin, Boston College guys, were the kind
of quarterbacks the fans live and die with; the mere mention of
Vito (Babe) Parilli's name drew cheers; Steve Grogan was beloved
because he liked to go galloping through linebackers and
defensive backs. The statuesque and rather laid-back Bledsoe, who
surveys the field calmly from his 6'5", 240-pound eminence and
then whips his tight spirals downfield, has been a notable, if
not fully appreciated, addition to the honor roll.

For a while there was grumbling about his interceptions. So last
year, behind a mishmash of a line, Bledsoe held the ball longer
and cut his interceptions to a career-low 13. But he also kissed
the canvas 45 times, giving him a two-season sack total of 100,
second most in the league over that period. So then there was
grumbling about the sacks.

Once upon a time his toughness was in doubt: He was out of
Washington State, one of those West Coast bonus babies. Then he
displayed remarkable courage late in 1998, playing despite the
fact that he'd fractured his right index finger in two places
during a game against Miami and rallying the Patriots on a
last-second touchdown drive. He did it again the following week
against Buffalo, providing the cushion New England needed to get
into the playoffs. "It showed a lot of character," says Troy
Brown, the leading wideout and the most serious downfield threat
the Patriots have, now that Terry Glenn has been suspended for
the year for failing to return to camp. "You see someone play in
that much pain and win the game for you, and it rallies everyone
else. It makes everyone play tougher."

Though Bledsoe seems to have been around forever--only Brett Favre
has thrown more passes since 1993, the year Bledsoe was taken
with the first pick in the draft--he is just 29.

New England owner Bob Kraft has never been accused of being
stingy, and in March he gave Bledsoe a 10-year, $103 million
extension, the richest contract in NFL history. Football people
scratched their heads. Why spend so much money on one diamond
when you could use it to buy lower-priced jewels, such as
offensive and defensive linemen and maybe a big-name runner?
"Because he's 29 and at the top of his game," Kraft says, "and
quarterbacks like this come around once in a lifetime."

In the meantime coach Bill Belichick has been trying to upgrade
the talent around his quarterback. During the off-season the
Patriots brought in 22 free agents, among the highest number in
the league and the most in franchise history. Last year New
England suffered from below-average talent (running backs,
offensive line), nagging injuries to some of its best players
(middle linebacker Ted Johnson, defensive end Willie McGinest)
and a drop-off in focus and production by a former Pro Bowler
(cornerback Ty Law).

Belichick's top draft choice went for a defensive tackle, Richard
Seymour. That wasn't a big surprise since defense, after all, is
his baby. The Patriots hope that their two gifted rookie tackles,
Matt Light and Kenyatta Jones, will be able to step into the
starting lineup sometime soon. To keep Bledsoe happy, four
free-agent wideouts, all of whom have started at some point, were
signed. A running game? The Patriots haven't been in the top half
of the league in that department for five years, and there isn't
much hope on the horizon.

"At least most of the pieces are in place," Bledsoe says. "Last
year, going into the first game, we signed a guard, Sale Isaia,
on Wednesday, and he wound up playing on Sunday. Then we signed
right guard Joe Andruzzi on that Saturday, and he played the
following week against the Vikings. We had four young guys
competing at the tackles, bouncing in and out of the lineup.

"We have continuity now. I've had a chance to work with our new
wideouts, and if one or two of them busts loose, well, we could
be in good shape."


COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON Bledsoe has shown before that he can weather a storm, but he could use a little help from his friends.


an opposing team's scout sizes up the Patriots

"What you've got here is the House of Lords, but New England's
record suggests that it should be the House of Commons. O.K.,
you've got two highly paid guys, Drew Bledsoe and Lawyer Milloy,
who've earned it, but a lot of others aren't playing up to their
paychecks. Some are on the downside, either through injury or
just age. Ty Law has got to get himself together and decide he's
going to be good again. Damien Woody has the ability to be one of
the top five centers in the league, but every year he fights a
weight problem. He's supposed to be the leader of the line, but
you can't be a leader if you're rolling into camp overweight....
I like the new offensive line better than other people do. The
key, of course, is how quickly the rookie tackles, Kenyatta Jones
and Matt Light, pick up the scheme. Mike Compton, the guard they
got from the Lions, brings a style of play they need. He's a
tough guy. So is Joe Andruzzi on the right side.... Right now
David Patten looks the best of the new receivers, but I can't
really get too excited about that because he always seems to have
a good camp.... One guy who is always overlooked is Tedy Bruschi.
They need more guys like that.... The defense worries me, though.
There's no noseguard. That's why Bill Belichick signed Bryan Cox,
to double with Ted Johnson in a two-middle-linebacker set and
firm it up inside.... My favorite player on the team is Troy
Brown. All he does is make clutch plays."


Sept. 9 at Cincinnati
16 at Carolina
23 N.Y. JETS
Oct. 7 at Miami
21 at Indianapolis
28 at Denver
Nov. 4 at Atlanta
Dec. 2 at N.Y. Jets
16 at Buffalo
22 MIAMI (Sat.)
30 Open date

NFL rank: 20
Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .492
Games against playoff teams: 7

with 2000 statistics

COACH: Bill Belichick; second season with New England (41-55 in
2000 RECORD: 5-11 (fifth in AFC East)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 26/19/22; defense 21/21/20


QB Drew Bledsoe 49 531 att. 312 comp. 58.8% 3,291 yds.
17 TDs 13 int. 77.3 rtg.

RB J.R. Redmond 114 125 att. 406 yds. 3.2 avg. 20 rec.
126 yds. 6.3 avg. 3 TDs

RB Antowain Smith[N]191 101 att. 354 yds. 3.5 avg. 3 rec.
20 yds. 6.7 avg. 4 TDs

FB Marc Edwards[N] 298 2 att. 9 yds. 4.5 avg. 16 rec.
128 yds. 8.0 avg. 2 TDs



WR Troy Brown 96 83 rec. 944 yds. 4 TDs
WR Bert Emanuel[N] 209 7 rec. 132 yds. 1 TD
WR David Patten[N] 213 38 rec. 546 yds. 1 TD
TE Jermaine Wiggins 259 16 rec. 203 yds. 1 TD
K Adam Vinatieri 196 25/25 XPs 27/33 FGs 106 pts.
PR Troy Brown 96 39 ret. 12.9 avg. 1 TD
KR Kevin Faulk 274 38 ret. 21.5 avg. 0 TDs

LT Adrian Klemm 6'3" 310 lbs. 5 games 4 starts
LG Mike Compton[N] 6'6" 300 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Damien Woody 6'3" 315 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Joe Andruzzi 6'3" 315 lbs. 11 games 11 starts
RT Matt Light (R)[N] 6'4" 305 lbs. 11 games 11 starts


LE Bobby Hamilton 79 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
DT Richard Seymour(R)[N]78 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
NT Brandon Mitchell 29 tackles 0 sacks
RE Willie McGinest 63 tackles 6 sacks
OLB Mike Vrabel[N] 15 tackles 1 sack
MLB Ted Johnson 73 tackles 1/2 sack
OLB Tedy Bruschi 107 tackles 1 sack
CB Ty Law 74 tackles 2 int.
SS Lawyer Milloy 117 tackles 2 int.
FS Tebucky Jones 66 tackles 2 int.
CB Otis Smith 71 tackles 1 int.
P Lee Johnson 89 punts 42.7 avg.

[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)

"My favorite player on the team is Brown. All he does is make
clutch plays."