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Brady now, Bledsoe then

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 18, 2011 03:32 PM

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FOXBOROUGH -- So there you have the literal view from the press box here at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots are roughly 45 minutes away from kickoff against Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers.

As for the figurative view from the press box, count me among those who are predicting a shootout between two of the league's finest quarterbacks. I do think the Patriots defense played better against Miami last week in context of specific situations than the final statistics suggest, but Rivers, who threw for a league-best 4,710 yards last season, is as talented as he is brash, and he'll get his points. Just not as many as Tom Brady and his offense. The show, and the outcome it produces, should be a heck of a lot more fun that watching the Red Sox flail against David Price the Rays bullpen.

One quick semi-related thought to today's festivities. While flipping between WEEI's always excellent "NFL Sunday'' and the Sports Hub's "Johnston and Flynn'' on the commute in this morning, I caught the engaging Flynn -- that, if you're not tuned in to the local sports media scene, would be Mike Flynn, the former UMaine and Ravens center, in that order of importance -- talking about Drew Bledsoe's induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame and how much he enjoyed watching those mid-'90s Patriots teams with No. 11 at the helm. Thought that was cool for two reasons:

drewfinncard.jpg1. Maybe I'm wrong, but rarely do you hear an ex-athlete talk with such appreciation for a team he rooted for before his playing career. Flynn seemed legitimately proud that he played in Baltimore with former Patriots Ben Coates and Sam Gash.

2. It jostled my memory a bit -- as did the Bledsoe nostalgia from the past week -- as to how fun those teams actually were. I won't rehash the immediate pre-Kraft, pre-Bledsoe, pre-Parcells history of the franchise except to say that it was grim and you couldn't blame James Orthwein for glancing toward St. Louis. But that 1994-'96 ride from optimistic underdog to legitimate contender was a blast.

And thinking back on the last year of that time frame, when the good times lasted all the way to the moment Desmond Howard blew past Hason Graham and burst through the seam in New Orleans, it dawned on me that the offense the Patriots put on the field during that 1996 season was as versatile as any the franchise has had in my recollection . . . yes, including 2007. Need I remind you that Laurence Maroney was the so-called feature back that season?

Consider the talent on that 1996 offense: Bledsoe threw 623 times, completing 373 for 4,086 yards and 27 touchdowns. Curtis Martin, the one would get away, ran for 1,152 yards and 14 touchdowns. Terry Glenn was a combination of grace and dazzle, while Shawn Jefferson ran the deep routes. Coates was Bledsoe's Mr. Dependable; you couldn't cover him over the middle with two men, let alone one. Gash opened the holes for Martin. Keith Byars, a football Swiss Army, and speedy Dave Meggett were superb, accomplished role players.

Those Patriots finished second in the NFL with 418 points, a little more than 26 per game. Maybe that doesn't match up to what the Patriots did last year -- they scored exactly a hundred more points than the '96 squad, averaging a league-best 32.4. And maybe it won't match what they do this year. But it sure was fun, even if it does feel like more than 15 years ago.

OK, back to the present, and a prediction: Patriots 38, Chargers 28.

I'll be tweeting at GlobeChadFinn all afternoon, and be sure to check out Extra Points for updates from the Globe and Boston.com staff during and after the game.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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