It's a testament to Drew Bledsoe's character that so many New England fans still respect him. His arrival in New England in 1993, along with that of Bill Parcells, helped mark a change in fortunes for a franchise that had been among the most inept in NFL history.
New Englanders also admire Bledsoe's toughness, dignity, accountability and, of course, his 30.06 rifle of an arm. His farewell, full-page advertisement in Boston newspapers when he departed for Buffalo in 2002 was among the classiest acts ever by a Boston-area athlete.
Bledsoe was so respected in New England that his replacement, Tom Brady, needed to win not one but two Super Bowl MVP awards before many Patriots fans finally admitted that keeping Brady over Bledsoe was the right thing to do.
The Cold, Hard Football Facts admire the respect accorded Bledsoe. But they're not slaves to misty-eyed public sentiment, and they certainly don't attempt to swim against a torrent of historical data buoyed only by a skimpy life vest called respect.
"The Truth Hurts," say the Cold, Hard Football Facts, the truth is this: Bledsoe does not need a better line, another receiver, a top running game, or a different offensive coordinator. And he's certainly not in the twilight of a glorious career that seems to be spiraling hopelessly downward in Buffalo. The truth is that Bledsoe is not an NFL has-been. The truth is that Bledsoe is an NFL never-was. He's an NFL overall No. 1 draft pick who has never lived up to expectations.
Here then is the execution the Drew Bledsoe legacy, courtesy of an impassive black-cloaked hangman called the Cold, Hard Football Facts:
* Heading into the 2004 season, Bledsoe has posted a single-season passer rating of more than 80 just four times in 11 years. (Tom Brady has posted an 80-plus passer rating three times in three seasons.)
* Bledsoe's career passer rating of 76.8 ranks 18th among active quarterbacks with a 1,500 career attempts. (Brady's career passer rating of 86.4 ranks puts him at a tie for ninth all time with Dan Marino.)
* Bledsoe has led the league in pass attempts three times, completions twice, and passing yards just once. He's never finished better than third in touchdown passes. (Brady has never led the league in pass attempts, completions or passing yards, but has already led the league once in touchdown passes.)
* Bledsoe has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in five of 11 seasons. (Brady has never thrown more interceptions than touchdowns over the course of a season and has a nearly 2 to1 touchdown to interception ratio in his career.)
* Despite his reputation as a strong-armed gunslinger, Bledsoe has a career average of just 6.6 yards per pass attempt. ("Dink and dunk" passer Brady averages 6.7 yards per attempt in his career.)
* Bledsoe has completed just 57.1 percent of the passes in his career, with a single-season best of 61.5 percent in 2002. (Brady's career completion percentage is 61.9).
* Bledsoe's numbers in seven career postseasons games are dreadful: 129 for 252, 1,335 yards, 6 TDs, 12 INTs, and passer rating of 54.9 that makes even fraud Peyton Manning's postseason performances look respectable.
* In his one Super Bowl appearance, Bledsoe posted a line of 25 for 48 (52.1 percent), 253 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs, and a 46.6 passer rating. He lost that game, 35-21. In two Super Bowl appearances, Brady has posted a line of 48 for 75 (64.0 percent), 499 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, and a 95.4 passer rating. He's won both games.
Drew Bledsoe was accorded elite quarterback status the day he walked into the NFL as an overall No. 1 draft pick in 1993. The Cold, Hard Football Facts believe it's taken 11 years of mediocre play for NFL "pundits" to finally acknowledge that Bledsoe is in fact a mediocre quarterback.
How do the Cold, Hard Football Facts know? Consider this one other fact: Bledsoe has looked painfully poor and immobile in his first two games of the 2004 season. He's led the Buffalo offense to just 20 total points and the team to an 0-2 record. Yet if he keeps up his 86.3 passer rating so far this season, it will be the second best statistical year of his substandard career.