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Bledsoe Expects Improved Pats To Be Even Better

Drew Bledsoe’s driver had just betrayed him for the first - but by no means the last - time, spritzing his tee shot into coniferous jail.

Not death row, but hard time.

“Well,” said playing partner Sonny Jurgensen, freeing a cigar momentarily from perpetually clenched teeth, “it’s third and 9 now.”

Let’s see. Then the iron Bledsoe punched 75 yards to get back in the fairway would have made it fourth and 7, and the wedge he subsequently shanked into a patch of The Coeur d’Alene Resort course’s painstakingly sculpted shrubbery must have been a blocked punt.

Not to poke fun at quarterback golf, mind you. Corey Pavin isn’t going to complete many against the Browns’ secondary, either.

And Drew Bledsoe put up his name as one of the celebrity “underwriters” for the Bank of America Quarterback Classic knowing full well his odds of getting into Canton are a great deal shorter than of making it into the Golf House.

He even has the vaudeville down. A sample:

Q: Are you guys as competitive at golf as at football?

Drew: “If you’re good.”

Q: What’s your handicap?

Drew: “My short game.”

Q: So your specialty is driving?

Drew: “Maybe the cart.”

Q: How’d you hit it today?

Drew: “A lot.”

Ladies and germs, Henny Bledsoe. Take my wedge, please.

Now, the funny part is, Bledsoe managed to get around the Resort in 91 - two strokes over his best round there - and with a handicap he estimated at 25, came away with a net 66.

That made him low host, anyway.

They might have figured in another stroke or two to compensate him for the hand cramps he surely suffered between every green and tee box. Other than perhaps John Elway, none of the quarterbacks was as sought after for snapshots and autographs as Bledsoe - owing both to his barely-cold legend at nearby Washington State and his status as the fastest young gun in the National Football League.

That crystallized in the last two months of the 1994 season - Bledsoe galloping the recently woeful New England Patriots to seven straight victories and into the playoffs in just his sophomore year as a pro.

No. 1 picks rarely have impact that immediate in the NBA, where they play five to a side, much less the NFL.

Heck, Bledsoe’s arm didn’t turn Wazzu around that fast.

“We came on strong at the end and made it into the playoffs, but the effect it had on us as a team was really twofold,” said Bledsoe.

“One, it gave us a lot of experience and we’re a very young football team. It gave us a feeling of what it’s like to be in the playoffs. The other thing it did was made our team a lot more hungry to get back there.”

That’s hunger, as opposed to starvation. The Pats hadn’t been to the playoffs in eight years.

There was a third effect Bledsoe didn’t mention. New England’s sudden rise made him one of the NFL’s true marquee talents - and not just one in waiting.

He threw his way into the NFL record book by attempting 691 passes, and his 400 completions left him four short of Warren Moon’s single-season record. It wasn’t as if Bill Parcells turned into Dennis Erickson, but that early in the season, the Patriots had little choice but to throw.

“I wouldn’t expect we’d throw that much this year,” said Bledsoe. “We probably will emphasize throwing more, but throw more on early downs. What I want to do this year is be consistent with my throws - complete a higher percentage. When that happens, you don’t have to throw as much late in the game and you don’t wind up throwing as many times.”

But while the late-season rush put the Patriots in the playoffs, it also put the heat on in a couple of ways.

One, the club must now renegotiate Bledsoe’s contract - his current one containing contingencies allowing him to become a restricted free agent at the end of the 1995 season. Bledsoe, however, dismisses the notion.

“We’re working on it - it’s an ongoing situation,” he said. “It’s something we’ll get done, hopefully before the beginning of the season. But if not, no big deal. I know I’m going to be in New England for a number of years. There’s really no question about that.”

More immediately, success has “changed our expectation level,” Bledsoe acknowledged.

“And it’s changed the expectation level of our fans and coaches. Our team is going to be disappointed if we don’t win our division - and I think we play in the toughest division in football. Maybe that’s arguable, but I don’t know what division could claim it over us, top to bottom.

“The Colts will be tough this year. The Bills are always going to be tough until they lose that core of players, and the Dolphins have made some major improvements. We’re in a tough division, but we expect to win it.”

And that would mean no peace at all between holes at next summer’s Quarterback Classic, but it’s worth the handicap.

You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.

, DataTimes

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