Bledsoe thrilled to be Pats' Hall of Fame finalist

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Bledsoe thrilled to be Pats' Hall of Fame finalist

By Jimmy Toscano
CSNNE.com

Drew Bledsoe hasnt had any problems keeping busy since retirement.

Take Friday, for instance. He had just gotten in from a day on the slopes, and was a couple hours away from hosting his 8-year-old daughters birthday party.

His winery in Walla Walla, Washington where hes from is thriving, and the Bledsoe Capital Group, a small private equity group, has been working on a major project over the last three years focused on cleaning water for the natural gas industry.

On top of all that, he still found enough time to coach his sons undefeated third- and fourth-grade flag football team last fall.

Yup, post-NFL life has been just fine for Bledsoe but theres a chance it could be even better.

Bledsoe is one of three finalists, along with former coach Bill Parcells, and defensive tackle Houston Antwine (1961-71), on the ballot for induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame.

Obviously its a great honor to be considered to the Patriots Hall of Fame, the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, who played for the Pats from 1993-2001, said in a conference call with the New England media on Friday. Great honor to be considered and great company to be in.

Its hard to imagine its been almost 18 years since the Patriots took Bledsoe with the first overall pick in the 1993 NFL draft. But for Bledsoe, the memories seem just like yesterday.

I came up to New England for the first time, and the welcome I received with my family you got the small-town kid from Walla Walla moving across the country and being installed as a figurehead of an organization, Bledsoe said. It was pretty heady times, but the welcome I received and we received on just that first day when we came up was a bit overwhelming.

That rookie year. Ive said it a number of times, was a little bit like sticking your head in a popcorn machine. Everything was happening so fast and all that went into that was pretty crazy times. To finish that first season winning four in a row and to beat the Dolphins on the last play of the season to knock them out of the playoffs, that was a memory that certainly clearly stands out.

A lot of that success must be credited to fellow Hall of Fame finalist Bill Parcells. Both Bledsoe and Parcells joined the Pats the same year, and now, fittingly enough, theyre both up for the Hall the same year something that Bledsoe referred to as being full circle.

It was a pretty rare thing, really, when I was drafted to come to an organization that had not had much success but that all of a sudden had a Super Bowl-winning coach on the sidelines, Bledsoe said. So that was very fortuitous for me and for the organization to have a coach of his stature come in.

But the memories dont end after his rookie season. Remaining in Foxboro -- there had been rumors the team was headed to St. Louis -- after Robert Kraft bought the team. Wearing the same pair of cleats for the entire second half of the 1994 season and into the playoffs, simply because they didn't lose once he'd switched to them.

The 1996 run to the Super Bowl obviously stands out, with Bledsoe pointing to the playoff game in Foxboro as underdogs against the Steelers as his favorite that season. The Pats went on to win that one handily, 28-3. But thats not the only playoff game against the Steelers Bledsoe will remember.

Certainly one that will always be engrained in my mind is when I got to finally come back in and play against the Steelers in the 2001 AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh when Tommy Tom Brady sprained his ankle, he said. Thats a memory that Ill take with me for ever and ever. To be able to come back in after not playing and to help our team to win that game to get to another Super Bowl is a memory that will always stick with me.

Its been more than a decade since the Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams in that Super Bowl, but Bledsoe didnt stay long to celebrate. A couple months later he was traded to Buffalo.

He has since returned with his wife to the town that originally took him in, and visited the stadium and Patriots Place.

I think we all recognize the state of the organization when I was drafted, Bledsoe said. In 1993 it was not an organization that had had a lot of success, but under the stewardship of Bill Parcells and then moving on to the ownership of the Kraft family, its really become one of, if not the, marquee franchise in the NFL.

The comment I made to my wife when we were back there the last time was that I really felt like during my time there the organization went from one place to a much better place, and then from there once I left its continued to go onwards and upwards. So certainly Im very proud to have been a part of that resurgence . . . I also take some degree of pride in seeing where theyve gone since I left.

But dont expect to see Bledsoe on the sidelines holding the clipboard for the Patriots, or any team for that matter, in the future. Having made a promise to himself to leave the NFL for good once he retired, he doesnt see himself coaching anything higher than high school football.

It was really important to me when I left the game of football, it was important for me to have a clean break and move on to the next phase in my life.

Still, Bledsoe keeps tabs on the Patriots and the goings on in the NFL when hes not busy with his family. And he'll always be proud of his role in the team's history.

The memories I have of New England are only fond ones, Bledsoe said. The fans in New England were always so supportive and passionate of their support of me and the Patriots while I was there. It was a pretty magical thing to be a part of."

Friday Bag: What’s the Patriots' future at running back look like?

Friday Bag: What’s the Patriots' future at running back look like?

Every Friday Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi and Phil Perry will take your Patriots questions (Curran is sitting this one out) on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as they call it. 

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag.

MG: Q leading off my portion of the always popular, always exciting, always (occasionally?) informative #FridayBag. I think it would be easy to think that way from the outside looking in, or knowing how callous some organizations can be, but I just don’t believe that to be the case here. Players talk. Agents talk. Hell, coaches talk. If the Pats were to operate that way, it would get around the league in a heartbeat. Then why would someone want to play here knowing they’ll be treated even more like a disposable commodity then normal? The flip side to this is actually protecting the player from himself. Guys in the last year of a deal sometimes feel compelled to play through every damn thing so they can at least say “look at me, I’m a warrior!” And on that note, I’d sit Marty Bennett next week in Denver and probably the following week against the Jets if that will help the ankle and whatever else is ailing him heal to the point where he’s a hell of a lot more effective than what we just saw versus the Rams (He was awful). Bennett’s too valuable going forward. 

MG: Lisa, my understanding is teams nominate their player and then it goes to a panel (one that includes the NFL Commish) to decide who wins for the league (It was Anquan Boldin in 2015). Can’t quibble with Rob Gronkowski being the team’s nominee this year. People have no idea how much he does for the community. Heck, we don’t even know the extent of it, but the great Don Rodman of Rodman Car Dealer fame and one of the most incredibly charitable individuals to ever grace this area said that there are few if any athletes who devote more time and effort to charitable works/foundations. I hope he wins. It would mean a lot to Gronk.

MG: You never figured you’d have to worry about the offense, did you Steve? But the season-ending injury to Gronk and now the injury to Danny Amendola does concern me. Both of those guys are incredibly reliable 3rd down targets, and in Gronk’s case, he’s usually the first or second option on 3rd down. Bennett hasn’t been able to pick up the slack because he’s clearly not healthy either. That means the Pats and Josh McDaniels will be going through a trial and error period here to best determine how to improve that number and become more efficient. I suspect more will fall on Julian Edelman, but also look for the continued evolution of the two back set with James White and Dion Lewis.

MG: Ambrose, the Pats have remained incredibly committed to the run because they don’t want to find themselves in the same spot they were a year ago, when the run game was so pathetic that neither Miami in the regular season finale nor Denver in the AFC title game paid it one mind. That means rushers pinning their ears back and smashing into Tom Brady at rates no one is comfortable with. So while I won’t be surprise if Brady throws it 45 times, I don’t think they shelve the ground game, at least in the first half. 

MG: Ok Bunk, I stole a comment of yours for the mailbag. Trying to make you famous…yes, I stand by my tweet in which I stated the Ravens and Broncos are bigger threats than the Chiefs or Raiders. Oakland’s defense would give up 40 to Brady. 45 if the Pats needed it. Or 50. I’m dead serious. As for the Chiefs, Alex Smith is not coming into Foxboro and beating this team, even with some of it’s defensive issues. And Belichick will make damn sure that rookie Hill doesn’t get many cracks at touching the football in the return game. Oh, and now the Chiefs best linebacker, Johnson, is out for the year with an Achilles. Should I continue???

MG: History tells us no, David. Brady would throw a fit and argue that he needs to play to remain sharp or iron out this problem or that problem. There’s also the possibility of a bye week looming, meaning he’d go 3 weeks without actually playing in a game. Seems like a good idea in the sense that you don’t risk a 39-year old to a blindside shot, but neither he nor Belichick would ever go for it.

PP: The running back position might be the toughest to project moving forward because there are so many injuries there and there are so many backs who come from nowhere to earn significant roles. I'll say this though: The backs they have on the roster -- not including Brandon Bolden, who has turned into strictly a special teamer after having a difficult time holding onto the football this year -- don't seem to be slowing down. LeGarrette Blount just turned 30 but is in the middle of his best season. Dion Lewis looks strong after two surgeries. James White has taken his game to a new level in his third season. I could see the same group coming back next season, but given the volatility of the position, you know the Patriots will always be scouring for talent there. 

PP: Tom E. touched on this yesterday, Big Wally. Brandon Pettigrew, who was released by the Lions on Friday, might make sense. Otherwise, there's not a whole lot out there. Zach Sudfeld? He's available. Would be an unlikely reunion, but desperate times . . . I think the Patriots will continue to roll out Martellus Bennett at less than 100 percent. I think Matt Lengel could see more work as a blocking tight end as he becomes more familiar with the system. I think we'll see more Cameron Fleming, and we could see more two-back sets with no tight ends. In my opinion, Bennett could use a rest, but I don't think it's coming any time soon. As far as Sarge's question about the hurry-up, I'm not sure we'll start to see more that. It's possible, but one of the benefits with the hurry-up is to keep a defense from substituting to shift matchups in its favor. With Gronkowski or Bennett on the field in a hurry-up situation would have even further highlighted the matchup issues they present. If either one found himself with a slow linebacker on him, the Patriots could have rushed to the line and continued...to exploit...that matchup. Without Gronkowski and without Bennett at full strength, the advantage of the no-huddle is somewhat sapped.  

PP: It's so late into the season, I'm not sure there's much in the way of opportunity for a breakout game this week, Paul. I guess the obvious choice would be Griff Whalen. If he can give the Patriots a pair of sure hands as a punt-returner, that would be a significant enough add that I might qualify it as a "breakout." Bill Belichick made it clear this morning that the team views him as more than just a returner, though, so he could see some offensive snaps in four-receiver sets and provide the Patriots with a presence in the slot. I'd deem a four-catch, 50-yard performance as a "breakout" as well. To me, that's the range of his ceiling for this week. One other name as a potential "breakout" candidate? Justin Coleman. He could be used defensively after being inactive for the last three weeks due to Eric Rowe's hamstring injury. If he's able to help slow down the combination of Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Steve Smith, that'd be a breakout in my book. 

PP: The combined record of opponents they've beaten is actually 26-57-1, including the Browns 0-12 mark twice, but now it's out there. 'Preciate you, Dave!

PP:  There's still so much up for grabs in the AFC West that it's hard to determine the likelihood of Patriots playoff matchups and where those games will be. However, without getting into the nitty gritty details, I'll just point out that it's still possible that the Patriots end up on the road in either of these cities in the postseason. On the road, Denver is the tougher matchup. Always has been a brutal place for the Patriots to play, and Denver's defense is still good enough to cause them problems. At home? I'd say, of these two teams, Kansas City would be the one that would provide the Patriots with a slightly tougher test. In my mind, they're a little more balanced and I have more faith in Alex Smith to make plays than I do Trevor Siemien.

Friday's Patriots-Ravens practice report: Richards returns to the field

Friday's Patriots-Ravens practice report: Richards returns to the field

Friday's practice participation/injury report for Monday night's Patriots-Ravens game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
TE Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder)
DB Jordan Richards (knee)
LB Elandon Roberts (hamstring)
DB Eric Rowe (hamstring)
WR/SpT Matthew Slater (foot)

BALTIMORE RAVENS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
TE Crockett Gilmore (thigh)
LB Terrell Suggs (not injury related)
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh)
C Jeremy Zuttah (not injury related)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
G Alex Lewis (ankle)

FULL PARTICIPATION
G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)