NEW ORLEANS -- He was, at once, dazzling and perplexing. From series to series, sometimes from play to play, he combined pinpoint passes with terrible decisions and strange throws, all of which added up to the puzzling inconsistency that continues to dog New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe,
When the Patriots review their 35-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI, they surely cannot hang all of the blame on their young, star, somewhat enigmatic passer.
After all, New England's defensive secondary, which gave up long touchdown passes to Packers receivers Andre Rison and Antonio Freeman in the first half, ruined the chances New England had to take control of the game early.
Then there was the Patriots' punt and kickoff coverage teams, which probably still are trying to catch up with Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howard. He turned the game's momentum decisively in the Packers' favor with 3: 10 left in the third quarter with a Super Bowl record 99-yard punt return.
On top of that, the Patriots never could generate much of a running game.
That left the Patriots' fate pretty much in the hands of Bledsoe, who needed to play a virtually mistake-free game in order to offset New England's other problems.
That never happened. Bledsoe's numbers belied his up-and-down evening, which was a snapshot of his up-and-down season--not to mention his sub-par postseason.
Twenty five completions in 48 attempts for 253 yards and two touchdowns. And four interceptions.
"I knew coming into the game that I was going to have to play at a very high level, and our team was going to have to play at a very high level to win. Unfortunately, neither of those things happened," Bledsoe said.
"The bottom line is those four interceptions hurt us. They really diminshed our chances to win the football game."
Bledsoe's first-half performance featured some startling contrasts. Early on, the Patriots decided to ditch their running game, but Bledsoe did them no favors. On the Patriots second possession, just after Green Bay had taken a 7-0 lead on Brett Favre's 54-yard strike to Andre Rison, Bledsoe tried to hit wide receiver Terry Glenn on a 10-yard out pattern, but his pass sailed high and inside Glenn, where cornerback Doug Evans picked it off at the Patriots' 28.
That set up a 36-yard field goal by Chris Jacke, giving the Packers a 10-0 lead barely six minutes into the contest.
But the Patriots regained their composure behind Bledsoe. First, he drove them 79 yards with short passes to Keith Byars and Curtis Martin, who broke each play for big yards, 52 combined. Then, after a questionable pass interference call against cornerback Craig Newsome in the end zone, Bledsoe threaded a one-yard pass to Byars in the back of the end zone to put New England on the scoreboard.
Bledsoe went 3-for-3 on the Patriots' next drive, and his 44-yard completion to a diving Terry Glenn down the middle will be a Super Bowl highlight for some time. That set up Bledsoe's four-yard touchdown strike to tight end Ben Coates, giving the Patriots a 14-10 lead with 2: 33 left in the first quarter.
But midway through the second quarter, the other Bledsoe struck. One play after he was drilled by blitzing safety Leroy Butler after releasing an incomplete pass, Bledsoe badly missed a wide-open Shawn Jefferson and instead found Green Bay safety Mike Prior for his second interception. By then, Green Bay had regained a 20-14 lead, and Bledsoe's miscue set up a 74-yard Packers drive that gave them a 27-14 halftime lead.
"I thought Drew played pretty well. There were a couple of throws we didn't like, but some things get out of a quarterback's control," New England coach Bill Parcells said. "Late in the game, there were some things that got out of his control."
Bledsoe did drive New England to the second-half touchdown that cut Green Bay's lead to 27-21.
The quarterback's fourth season drew to a troubling close yesterday While he enjoyed a Pro Bowl year, threw for more than 4,000 yards and recorded 28 touchdowns to propel New England into the playoffs, his postseason revealed how much he needs to grow. In three playoff games, Bledsoe threw three touchdowns and seven interceptions. And 12 of his 22 interceptions came in his last five games.
Pub Date: 1/27/97