BOSTON (AP) Drew Bledsoe”s doctors have cleared him to return to the field. Now all he needs is permission from his coach.

“I”m itching to get back in,” Bledsoe said yesterday at a news conference with his doctors. “I”m going to do everything in my power to be on the field on Sunday. Ultimately, that”s not my decision. But I can”t wait.”

Bledsoe was injured on Sept. 23 by a crushing but legal hit by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis. The New England Patriots quarterback returned for another series, but was taken out again after teammates told the coaches he looked woozy.

Since then, backup Tom Brady has led the team from an 0-2 record to 5-4. Coach Bill Belichick has said he would start whoever looked better in practice, and so far that”s Brady.

“We expect Tom to start against St. Louis,” Belichick said Monday. “I think if we had lost the last seven games, that probably would look a little different than winning five of the last seven. But until I see it, I just don”t know. I”m going to play the guy who gives us the best chance to win every week.”

But Bledsoe said he would do his best to change the coach”s mind.

“From the time I was a rookie, I”ve been a starter on this team, and I anticipate being a starter again. That being said, I have to go prove it again,” Bledsoe said. “I have great confidence in my ability to play this game, and I intend to make it hard for Brady to stay on the field.”

Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital, speaking for the first time since the injury, disputed previous reports that Bledsoe had a concussion and a collapsed lung.

Treating physician David Berger said Bledsoe arrived by ambulance the night of the Jets game with his left side of his chest filled with blood. Doctors inserted a chest tube that allowed them to give Bledsoe back his own blood.

The turning point in Bledsoe”s treatment was when the blood vessel healed on its own within a few days, making season-ending surgery unnecessary. Berger said that Bledsoe stayed informed on all treatment, and did not pressure doctors one way or the other regarding surgery.

“I think he understood the gravity of his injury,” Berger said.

In fact, doctors said Bledsoe probably was healed two weeks ago, but because he was still weakened they decided to wait to OK his return.

“We feel a lot more confident about him coming back now,” Berger said, noting that five specialists were consulted on the case. “It”s the opinion of all of them that the injury has healed.”

Berger also said because of the scar tissue that will keep the blood vessel in place against the ribs, Bledsoe is better off now than before.

“The chance of him having a rebleed is significantly lower than it was prior to him having the injury,” Berger said.

Brady, who played at Michigan and was selected in the sixth round of the 2000 draft, jumped ahead of Damon Huard in training camp to become the No. 2 quarterback. He has completed 140 of 221 passes for 1,426 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Bledsoe has been the team”s emergency quarterback for the past three games, meaning he would have played only if the first two quarterbacks were injured in the game and probably only handed off.

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