NEW ORLEANS – A day after officially naming Tom Brady the starter for Sunday's game, Head Coach Bill Belichick faced questions on the subject during his media session Thursday morning.
"We wanted to see [Brady] function in practice [Wednesday]," Belichick said. "We saw that on tape. We talked about it as a staff and we feel like he'll be ready to start Sunday. It was just like all the other decisions we make. We've done the same thing a number of times through the year and we try to handle all the players as much as we can the same.
"You take a look at what the situation is, you go out there to practice and see how it looks and you make a decision if you can and go with it. I felt like we could make one yesterday and everyone pretty much saw it the same way. We're not running a poll here; we're just trying to win a football game. Nothing more, nothing less."
Belichick came to the conclusion most expected after evaluating the films of the practice session and came away convinced that Brady's sprained left ankle had was well enough for him to be the starter. The coach explained that Brady has been playing all season and to disrupt that at this point wouldn't be in the team's best interests.
Drew Bledsoe, who stepped off the bench in dramatic fashion last Sunday in the 24-17 win over Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship, was disappointed in the decision but said nothing has changed from his perspective as far as his preparation for the game.
"I'll do whatever I can to help Tom and help my team to win the game," Bledsoe said. "From the time that I was cleared to play that's the way I've been approaching each game. Obviously I'm not wishing Tom any ill will but at the same time I'm preparing myself as if I could be in the game at any point.
"Last week just drove that point home. We were in the middle of a drive at a key point in the game and all of a sudden he goes down and I'm in the game and I have to be ready for that situation and I will be. I'll got through all the different scenarios and if that chance arises I'll be ready to go."
Belichick added that he feels even better about an already strong group of quarterbacks with Brady, Bledsoe and third-stringer Damon Huard after last week's heroics by Bledsoe.
"I think it was great. It showed everyone, and I think we probably knew better than anyone – our team, our coaches, our organization – the kind of depth we have at that position," Belichick said. "Drew is a true professional and he played extremely well in the Pittsburgh game. He made some huge plays for us, particularly at the end of the first half and on some key throws in the second half. So he showed he was ready and we're hoping he'll be ready. If he gets the call on Sunday we expect him to go in and do the job."
While Bledsoe was obviously thrilled to get off the bench last week and contribute to the team's run to the Super Bowl, it left him with some mixed feelings as well. He was asked if his playing time made him feel better for contributing or worse in that he got a reminder of what he'd been missing.
"That's a good question. It did both," he answered. "The fact that I played in the game last week made me feel a little better coming into this week like I contributed a little bit down the stretch and that feels good. Just standing on the sidelines watching this whole thing unfold … you're happy to be part of it but it's a little empty, you're kind of just along for the ride."
"The flip side of it is it's kind of like giving a starving man a taste. I've been a football player for a long and time and as a football player I don't like to watch. I like to play the game. To have stood there for so long and watched our team play and not been a part of it and then all of a sudden be back in there felt great. I felt like I hadn't missed a beat. It just brought that back and now I'm back on the sideline. So it did both, it felt great but it also made it a little bit harder to step back into the other role."
Player personnel director Scott Pioli met with the media and spoke on what will surely be a burning topic in the offseason: Bledsoe's future.
"We haven't even gotten into discussions about what the quarterback situation will be for 2002," Pioli said. "What we're worried about right now is this game. We'll take of that after the season. Had we spent time focusing on situations like that right now – what we're doing for the 2002 season – and made a decision as people thought we did months ago or weeks ago about our quarterback situation, we wouldn't have had a chance to see what Drew did this past week.
"You can't evaluate your football team until your football season is over. We're not going to evaluate the quarterback situation until the season is over. I'm not sure where people get their information. We're not going to discuss and make any decisions until we're finished worrying about the St. Louis Rams.
Bledsoe similarly dismissed the subject. "My future right now is one game – the Rams. That's the way I'm approaching it. That's the only thing that has any importance and it's the only part of my football career that has any importance right now. What happens after that we'll see. But right now the only part of it that I'm focused on is this game on Sunday."
Bring the Rams to us not us to the Rams
This game is like Princeton vs. UCLA. It's great athletes vs. "old school". It's the fast break vs. the back door pass. The behind-the-back dribble vs. the bounce pass. The dunk vs. the set shot.
In short, it's two contrasting styles and whoever dictates the tempo of Super Bowl XXXVI will win it. The Patriots task is to find a way to slow the Rams while beating them up physically.
"We need to go out and be able play football the way that our football team needs to play it," Belichick said. No truer words could be uttered. "We're not the St. Louis Rams and we can't play that style. If we do that we can be successful."
If the Patriots can slow the game and frustrate the Rams, they have a shot to take home a World Championship. If the Rams fast break offense gets going, the Patriots will be dusted. This is a classic matchup of differing styles. It's speed vs. strength. Finesse vs. Toughness.
In 16 of 18 appearances, the Rams alleged finesse, a.k.a. speed and skill, has been enough to blow teams out of the water. The Patriots will have to play their version of the four corners offense and the 2-1-2 zone defense.
Not so super
New Orleans hasn't exactly been the sight of Super Bowl barnburners. In fact, the average margin of victory in the eight previous Super Bowls in the Crescent City is 22 points, meaning the new nickname of this town might become Blowout City. The Patriots have been on the losing end of two of those games, falling 46-10 in Super Bowl XX and 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI. The closest title game in New Orleans came back in Super Bowl IX when Pittsburgh smothered Minnesota 16-6. The biggest blowout was not the Patriots-Bears game, but a 55-10 Super Bowl XXIV win for San Francisco over Denver.
Cornering the market
The Patriots starting cornerbacks will be put through the wringer Sunday night against star receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, to name two of the Rams impressive wideouts. Belichick broke down two of his player who will be vital to the Patriots success – Ty Law and Otis Smith.
"Ty and Otis have similarities. They're both, in terms of corners, relatively big and relatively physical compared to other people. Ty is in the middle of his career and Otis just keeps on going. Otis has had great success in the latter stages of his career. He is a very hard working, well prepared, diligent player – probably as good an example and a leader to our younger players in terms of preparation, work ethic and consistency as there is. Ty has great ability. He has good quickness. He has good upper body strength and he can get up there and challenge receivers. They both have good ball skills. They're both pretty good tacklers as corners go.