QB call: Rams brace for Bledsoe

Martz believes injury will force Patriots to keep Brady on bench

Announcement tomorrow

Rams coach: Bledsoe has stronger arm, Brady more mobility

Super Bowl

Patriots Vs. Rams

January 29, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - If New England coach Bill Belichick wants to play a guessing game over the identity of his starting quarterback for Super Bowl XXXVI, St. Louis coach Mike Martz isn't taking the bait.

Martz said yesterday in his first news conference after arriving here that he expects to see veteran quarterback Drew Bledsoe start on Sunday night, not second-year man Tom Brady.

He based that opinion on reports that Brady suffered a high ankle sprain in the Patriots' 24-17 AFC championship game victory at Pittsburgh on Sunday.

"My experience is it takes four to six weeks [to recover sufficiently from that injury]," Martz said. "Unless you're [Rams defensive tackle] Jeff Zgonina. Then it takes two or three days."

Martz backed off somewhat when questioned further. He said that his defensive coaching staff was still in St. Louis, and that he didn't know which quarterback those coaches were preparing for.

He then said that the staff would address that issue in today's meeting when the rest of the coaches arrive.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said yesterday that he won't announce which quarterback will start until after tomorrow's practice.

Martz did allow that it would make a difference depending on which quarterback faced the Rams.

"No two quarterbacks are alike," he said. "Absolutely, it does make a difference."

It's a subject that figures to get a lot more conjecture and speculation as the week develops. Bledsoe replaced Brady late in the first half against the Steelers and performed admirably. He completed three straight passes to get a touchdown and 14-3 halftime lead for the Patriots.

Bledsoe finished the game 10 for 21 for 102 yards, despite not having played since he suffered a collapsed lung on Sept. 23.

The few Rams players who were available to speak with the media yesterday played down the notion that uncertainty over the Patriots quarterback will make a difference.

"Not at all," said defensive end Grant Wistrom. "We'll put in the same game plan. They run the same offense [with either quarterback]."

Informed of Martz's comments, Wistrom hedged only slightly.

"They're a little bit different," he said of Bledsoe and Brady. "But at the same time, their offense is going to be the same. The group that will be affected the most is the defensive linemen, knowing how quickly they get rid of the football.

"But it's not going to change things drastically."

Rams middle linebacker London Fletcher said there wasn't much to choose from between the Patriots' two quarterbacks.

"They're both very good quarterbacks," he said. "Bledsoe a three-time Pro-Bowler who handled his demotion like a true professional. Brady came in and took them to the AFC championship. They're both proven winners."

When the Rams pulled out a 24-17 victory over the Patriots in Foxboro, Mass., in Week 10, Fletcher came away with a favorable first impression of Brady, who has been the starter since Week 3.

"Brady impressed me with his poise," Fletcher said. "I tried to rattle him. I tried to have a couple conversations with him.

"One play, he took off running. Me and [outside linebacker] Mark Fields drilled him. Not many quarterbacks would have been able to play after that. But he went back to the huddle. ... For me, I don't care who is at quarterback. All I see is a guy with the ball."

The main difference Martz sees in Bledsoe and Brady is arm strength.

"Drew has a stronger arm," Martz said. "He can put the ball in tiny creases, where a lot of guys can't. Brady is probably a little more mobile. To have those two quarterbacks on the same team is pretty special."

Martz has been extremely complimentary of the Patriots. He reportedly told the Rams back in November that the Patriots were a Super Bowl team, even though New England fell to 5-5 after losing to St. Louis.

"I saw a great deal [in that game]," Martz said. "The way they approach all three facets of the game, they're as well-coached a team as there is in the league. They get as much out of their players as we get out of ours."

Super Bowl

St. Louis Rams (16-2) vs. New England Patriots (13-5) What: Super Bowl XXXVI

Where: Superdome, New Orleans

When: Sunday, 6:20 p.m.

TV: Chs. 45, 5

Line: Rams by 14

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