Revisting Bledsoe's legacy

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Revisting Bledsoe's legacy

By: Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Its not every day that you have a reason to talk about Drew Bledsoes legacy, but today I come bearing two:

1. Bledsoes on the verge of election into the Patriots Hall of Fame.

2. Its either that or we talk about the lockout.

So lets stick with Bledsoe, at least for now. Then its back to brainstorming ways to spend our Sundays this fall. (So far all I have is: Crawl into a hole and cry myself unconscious.)

Anyway, last Friday, the Patriots HOF committee began the process of selecting nominees for the Class of 2011, and while nothings official yet, its a pretty safe bet that when alls said and done (after the committee names its finalists, and the fans vote for their favorite) that Drew Bledsoe will be the last one standing.

The reasons are obvious.

At the end of the day (for all he was, and certainly all he wasnt), there are very few players whove impacted the Patriots organization quite like Bledsoe.

Beginning in 1993, he (along with Bill Parcells, whos also up for a spot but may have burned too many bridges on his private jet out of town) rescued the team from the darkest stretch in franchise history. Before Bledsoe, the Pats were all about bad jokes, black outs, and Dick MacPherson. In the four years before Bledsoe, the Pats won a total of 14 games. There was no leadership. No direction. No hope. The only time anything exciting happened, it involved Irving Fryar and the police.

But Bledsoeagain, and Parcellscame in and changed that. After his rookie season, the buzz around the team helped inspire Robert Kraft to make the leap into ownership. By Bledsoes second season, the Pats had a winning record and were back in the playoffs. By his fourth season, they were in the Super Bowl. In the meantime, at least until Nomar came along in the late-90s, Bledsoe became the most popular athlete in town. He was the star of a franchise that had gone forever without one, especially on offense. He put up big numbers. He had the golden arm. He won games like that famous comeback against the Vikings. After so many years a pathetic Patriot football, Bledsoe made passes like that game-winner to Kevin Turner, and, in the process, he made the Pats cool again. He made people believe that this franchise had a chance.

The truth is that right now, theres an entire generation of Patriot fans who exist because of Drew Bledsoe. That alone makes him worthy of the Hall, and its on those meritshes also second all-time in passing yards, and third all-time in wins and touchdownsthat hell see his number retired, either this August or whenever the season starts.

And when that happens, as hes up on the podium with his family and former teammates and all the Krafts, well give credit where credits dueto a guy who changed football in New England, and who, for eight seasons, meant a lot to a lot of people around here.

Well stand, and well applaud

And after, every single person in that stadiumfrom Kraft to Belichick to Brady to the super fan with tattoos all over his face, to the weird guys with the musketswill take a second and collectively have the same exact thought:

Man, thank God he got hurt.

And thats unbelievably strange. But its OK.

Because while it may feel wrong to stand and cheer for a guy, knowing that you still consider the day he was nearly killed on the field to be one of the greatest days in Patriots history, theres also this.

The injury wasnt only the best thing that ever happened to the Pats, it was the also best thing that ever happened to Drew Bledsoes legacy.

The truth is that if that injury never happens, things werent going to end well.

Not that his Patriot career had a storybook ending anyway, but this would have been worse.

Bledsoe stays healthy that year and more than likely flushes another season down the toilet. He continues to play in the shadow of a 100M extension that he couldn't live up to. At the time, Belichick was already unhappy. He didnt like Bledsoes game and it wasnt getting any better. His touchdown total had gone down in each of the four seasons since the Super Bowl; his decision-making was getting worse. He was as good as he was going to get, and it wasnt good enough. If Bledsoe stays healthy, maybe theres still a controversy; after all, Belichick wanted Brady running the show, but it would have been a mess. It wouldnt have been any sweeter than what happened, only this time the season would have already been lost. Maybe Brady never catches that initial lightning in a bottle, maybe the Pats never catch that mystique.

So many different things could have happened from Drew Bledsoe escaping Mo Lewis, but relative to what actually did happen, all of them would be negative. And Bledsoe wouldve been the target. He could have dodged Lewis, but his brand would have continued to take a hit with every Pats loss, and who knows where it would've gone from there. Bledsoe finished his Patriots career with a record of 163-160. If he doesnt get hurt, theres a very good chance he goes below .500. And again, it wasn't getting any better.

And then what do we make of his career? What happens to that legacy? Are people rushing to vote him the first time hes eligible for the Patriots Hall of Fame?

Thankfully, the answers dont really matter, because reality worked out so much better. In reality, the injury happened, and the Patriots future was saved.

As was that legacy.

Believe it or not, this September 23 will mark 10 years since Bledsoe last started a game for the Pats; it will be 10 years since he took that hit from Lewis, triggered a storybook season and one of the most dominant decades in NFL history.

And in the end, that injury, and that decade, are the reason we're now able to appreciate all that Bledsoe accomplished over his eight years here, and not get bogged down by what he didnt.

Its why even though New England once dreamed of seeing Bledsoes jersey on display in Canton, Ohio, well still be more than happy to settle for celebrating it in Foxboro.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Roethlisberger takes aim at young Steelers teammates after loss to Patriots

Roethlisberger takes aim at young Steelers teammates after loss to Patriots

FOXBORO – Ben Roethlisberger rolled some teammates under the bus Sunday night but it was hard to tell exactly which ones had the tire tracks to prove it.

“It just at times almost felt like it was almost too big for some of the young guys,” said Roethlisberger after the Steelers were sent home sucking on a 36-17 loss.

PATRIOTS 36, STEELERS 17

He could have been talking about young receivers Sammie Coates and Cobi Hamilton, each of whom had deep balls slide through or past their hands.

Or he could have been talking about Antonio Brown, who within a week, went from being the star of his own Facebook Live broadcast to being bottled up by the Patriots secondary (seven catches, 77 yards).

While Coates and Hamilton didn’t come up with “combat catches,” a Steelers term that both Roethlisberger and head coach Mike Tomlin employed, Brown launched the Steelers week of preparation by depantsing Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers veterans with his tone deaf self-promotion.  

Roethlisberger may have been talking about the on-field product when he said the following, but it just as easily could be applied to Brown.

“Hopefully this is a learning game for guys to understand that this isn’t promised to anybody,” said Roethlisberger. “Tomorrow’s not promised to any of us and just to make the playoffs isn’t enough to get to this championship game. A lot of guys have been in this league for a long time and haven’t been to any of these or have been to very few, so I hope that they understand the importance and relish the opportunity if it comes again.”

Asked if he thinks the younger players understood that, Roethlisberger said, “I don’t know. That’s a good question. That’s probably a question for other guys, but I know I did.”

Brady on Hogan after record-setting night: 'He's been incredible'

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Brady on Hogan after record-setting night: 'He's been incredible'

FOXBORO -- Someone told Chris Hogan before the AFC Championship that it would be a game he'd look back on 30 years from now and remember in perfect detail. 

That may be difficult for him given the sheer volume of plays he made in Sunday's 36-17 win over the Steelers. Hogan finished the game with nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns on 12 targets, surpassing Deion Branch for the franchise record for receiving yards in a postseason game. 

"It'll be something that definitely I'll remember for the rest of my career," he said, "and probably for the rest of my life . . . I'm happy for everyone in this locker room, all these guys in the locker room, the coaches. We've worked so hard to get here, and I was just happy that I was able to help this team get a win tonight."

Hogan did more than that. He was pivotal during New England's first touchdown drive of the night, catching passes on three consecutive plays for a total of 41 yards, and then reeling in an easy 16-yard touchdown when the Steelers defense lost track of him in the right half of the end zone. 

"I moved a little bit to the left because they were pressuring up the middle, and the pocket kind of collapsed," Brady said. "So I kind of slid to the left and I had good vision. They kind of bit down on Julian [Edelman] pretty hard, and then Hogs just was standing there in the back of the end zone."

Hogan's other catches were generally more contested than that one, but several were made without a Steelers defender harrassing him. And when they let him be, he made them pay. 

The flea-flicker pass that resulted in Hogan's second score of the day was a kick in the gut for the Steelers defense, putting the Patriots ahead, 17-6. Brady initially needed a reminder of how Hogan scored his second touchdown of the night, saying, "Oh, the flea-flicker. How could I forget that?"

"We ran one earlier in the year against, I think it was Baltimore, and it worked," Brady added. "I hit Hogan on that one too, on a crossing route. Those were well-executed plays. It's nice when you can take advantage of some of those plays, nice to gain some chunks that way when you kind of get some misdirection or double-pass, flea-flicker, something like that. It's a big spark for the team."

At that point Hogan already had racked up a career day. He had never scored multiple touchdowns in an NFL game coming in, and he set his own career-high for receiving in the postseason with 117 yards. In his first and only playoff game the week before, he had 95 yards on four catches. 

Hogan suffered a thigh injury in that game that limited him in practice and made him questionable against the Steelers. But he played, and he gave his team an early boost, helping force the Steelers to play catch-up for the vast majority of the night.

And the injury didn't appear to slow him down all that much. Though there were times when he was slow to get to his feet after being tackled, he showed the kind of speed that allowed him to put himself near the top of the list in the NFL when it comes to yards-per-catch (18.7). Among  receivers with at least 20 catches, he trailed only Sammie Coates (20.7) of the Steelers. 

"He's been incredible," Brady said. "I mean, to lead the league in average yards per catch is spectacular. He's made big plays for us all season. He made big plays in the biggest game of the year for us."

It's one that he'll remember for a long time, but he's hoping to add to that happy memory in two weeks.

"We've grinded throughout this entire year, this is what we worked for, and this is what we wanted to get to," Hogan said. "It's a special moment for all of these guys in this locker room. We'll enjoy this and get back to work because we've got one more."