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PATRIOTS WRITING A TALE OF TWO QUARTERBACKS

If anyone needed evidence on how times have changed for Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe, on Wednesday was a perfect example. The contrast between the two New England Patriots' quarterbacks was striking.

Upstairs at Foxboro Stadium, Brady, the AFC offensive player-of-the week, stood at the microphone with a Red Sox cap on, which he had on backward. He wore an inside-out sweat shirt, jeans and sneakers. He looked, and acted, relaxed.

Three games into his career as a starter in the NFL, life is very good for Brady. The second-year player is doing a lot of smiling, deflecting compliments about his performance to his teammates.

He has become the center of attention with the Patriots. It is a role in which he seems quite comfortable.

A few minutes later, in the locker room, Bledsoe took time to answer questions. The changes - brought on for him by the internal injuries he suffered in the Jets game Sept 23 - are quite different.

Bledsoe's mood was much more serious. Sporting a Patriots' hat, worn with the brim in front, a Patriots' turtleneck shirt and Patriots' shorts, Bledsoe was bombarded with questions about his health. Also, he was asked his reaction about how Brady is filling his job.

For the first time, Bledsoe acknowledged that he now considers Brady a rival for the starting quarterback spot.

"When you're talking about Tom Brady fans, you've got to put me at the top of that list," Bledsoe said. "He works his butt off. He's playing very well. I expect him . . . to push me for my spot as long as I'm here."

Not that Bledsoe is ready to hand over the job he has held for the last nine years.

"I feel as though I'm going to be the starter as long as I'm here," he said. "At the same time, the job isn't given to somebody. You have to prove it daily."

Bledsoe is just beginning to return to normal activity. Coach Bill Belichick reported Wednesday that Bledsoe is being changed from definitely out to doubtful on the injury report required by the league. There is an outside chance - "and I would emphasize outside chance," the coach said - that Bledsoe will be in uniform as the Pats' emergency quarterback Sunday at Indianapolis.

Bledsoe confirmed that he has lost about 15 pounds being injured. He dismissed the thought that his season is over and spoke about what he has gone through.

"It was a serious injury," he said. "A few hours after the game I lost over half the blood in my body. That's a pretty serious deal. Any time you are losing that much blood it's a serious thing. I've been instructed to take it as such."

His recovery has not gone as planned.

"It's been slower than I had hoped, to be honest with you. I was hoping I'd be throwing and running and doing all that stuff by now," he said. "But at least I'm able to do a little bit."

The fact that Bledsoe should be able to make the trip to Indianapolis to be with the team Sunday, even if he can't play, will be a help, Brady said.

Brady, for his part, spoke about how he expects Sunday's game to be much more difficult than his first start, a 44-13 New England rout over the Colts Sept. 30. He spoke about how difficult it is to play on the road and how much more focused he and his teammates must be.

He seemed embarrassed when someone asked about reports that he has become especially popular among women, how there was an article in Patriots Football Weekly that called him "hot." Just Wednesday, a Boston newspaper questioned why Brady had not taken part in a public appearance arranged by the Patriots, saying Brady, who is 24 and single, was the guy everyone wanted to see.

Coach Bill Belichick, seeing the fuss over Brady, tried to stem the tide.

"It's way too early to retire his number," Belichick said. ". . . Let's wait until we beat somebody on the road, have a little bit better record."

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