Are the New England Patriots a team of destiny? Yes. But not because they”ll be 6-10 next year yet find themselves in Sunday”s Super Bowl, but because Tom Brady sprained his knee, allowing star backup Drew Bledsoe to replace him.

Paul Wong
Sports Monday Column<br><br>Raphael Goodstein

Bledsoe will go down as the best backup quarterback since Steve Young was holding the clipboard for Joe Montana. Don”t think the Chicago Bears weren”t watching yesterday”s game and wondering “What if we had a backup quarterback or for that matter, a starting quarterback that was half as good as Bledsoe?” When Jim Miller went down, Shane Mathews promptly stepped in and eliminated his Bears from the playoffs.

In fact, after their quarterback play was exposed by the Eagles, the rumor mill heated up with talk that the Bears are interested in trading for Bledsoe this offseason.

But I digress.

The question is, which quarterback is better suited to lead New England to the Super Bowl title?

I know that Brady is a clutch quarterback, and as a Michigan fan and student, I”d like to see him lead New England to the title. But winning the AFC and winning the Super Bowl are two completely different tasks. The St. Louis Rams are much, much better than anyone in the AFC, and the only reason New England has any chance is because anything can happen in a one-game season.

Brady had a Pro Bowl year, guiding the Patriots who were 5-11 last year with Bledsoe as the starter into yesterday”s AFC title game. Against the Rams, New England will need to score 30-plus points. And simply put, if Brady plays at less than 100 percent, the Patriots are not going to put up those kind of points.

The Philadelphia Eagles” defended the Rams” offense about as well as a defense can yesterday it held them to 29 points. Philadelphia tried to establish the run so that it could set up the pass. But ultimately, the Eagles lost because they couldn”t make the one big play they needed to pull off the upset. And that was with Donovan McNabb, as hot, mobile and big-play capable as any quarterback. But the Rams defense a fast unit that closes on the ball as well as anyone, especially on turf shut down the Eagles for much of the game.

With the Super Bowl played on turf in New Orleans” Superdome, it would be futile for the Patriots to try the same game plan, as they don”t have as good a defense or a playmaker like McNabb. The Patriots will need to come out and set up the run with the pass and hope that they make a couple of big plays and get a couple of turnovers.

Yes, Brett Favre and Green Bay tried this and lost 45-17 last week, with Favre having the worst game of his career, throwing six interceptions. Favre and Green Bay are notorious for playing poorly on turf, so it wasn”t too surprising to see them get blown out.

Bledsoe”s Patriots are a naturally more pass-oriented offense, one capable of making a big play at any moment and certainly one capable of putting up big points. Bledsoe still has one of the five best arms in the NFL, and he”s still capable of taking over a game. Although he didn”t dominate yesterday”s second half, he was impressive, and another week of preparation would only help.

Let”s take a look at how the Patriots found themselves in this quarterback controversy. Heading in to week two, Bledsoe was the Patriots” star quarterback, was as good a pocket passer as anyone, with the exception of Kurt Warner and had led New England to a Super Bowl just five years ago.

But in that week two game against the New York Jets, linebacker Mo Lewis drilled Bledsoe and sheered blood vessels in his lungs. The injury sidelined Bledsoe for seven games.

Brady stepped in and the Patriots went 5-2.

With the fans excited about the new star, New England stuck with Brady, and rode him into last week”s game.

New England coach Bill Belicheck should start Drew Bledsoe. Because while it was the right move to start Brady over Bledsoe following the injury even after he recovered in a one-game season, when you need a home run, you send up Kirk Gibson.

Raphael Goodstein can be reached at raphaelg@umich.edu.

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