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Will McDonough

Bittersweet win for the outward-bound Drew Bledsoe

Quarterback certain to leave New England

Drew Bledsoe’s Super Bowl ride came mostly on the bench as a backup to Tom Brady.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Drew Bledsoe’s Super Bowl ride came mostly on the bench as a backup to Tom Brady.

He literally will take off for the hills now to clear his head, trying to finalize an answer, when he knows in his heart what it will be.

Drew Bledsoe has played his last game with the New England Patriots. He wishes it wasn’t this way. He would have liked to finish his career here. That’s what he thought was going to happen when he signed a multimillion dollar, long-term contract last spring. But, according to a source with personal knowledge of Bledsoe’s thinking on the matter, Bledsoe also knows that wishes do not always come true.

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It’s as simple as this: Bledsoe is not a backup quarterback, and even if the Patriots want him to hang around in that capacity, he does not want to do it. In his heart, he believes (and he is correct) that he is still one of the top five or six quarterbacks in the National Football League. At 29 (he turns 30 Feb. 14), and in perhaps the best physical condition of his life, he is positive he can go somewhere else and play to the highest level his body will allow.

No one in the Patriots organization has told him what their plans are for him. But even though he loves the area, and the people of New England, he wants to move on.

There has been speculation he will be left exposed for the Houston Texans in the Feb. 18 expansion draft but he wouldn’t be overly enthused about that prospect. A first-year expansion team in the NFL in all likelihood won’t have a first-class offensive line, and Bledsoe knows he needs someone to block for him to produce what he does best - throw the deep ball.

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The most realistic possibility is a trade. Bledsoe should have good value. There are teams such as Chicago and Washington that are pretty good, with solid offensive lines, that need someone like Bledsoe to take their team to the next level.

’’Hey, whatever happens, happens,’’ said Bledsoe after last night’s game. ‘’I’ll see what the future holds for me. Whatever that is, I just don’t know. It was great to be in a Super Bowl. It’s so much better to win it.’’

What New England is doing now on offense doesn’t fit Bledsoe. In fact, the last two coordinators - Ernie Zampese with the Pete Carroll regime, and now Charlie Weis under Bill Belichick - favor systems that are really not built for a drop-back, pocket passer who needs time to do what he does best - throw the 20- to 30-yard ‘’out’’ patterns that only a handful of quarterbacks in the league can do.

Zampese had an offense that spread out the field, but also made it more difficult to block for the passer, and gave the rushing defensive linemen or blitzing linebackers an easier route to the quarterback. Bledsoe got beat up the last year of the Carroll era, and damn near killed when he was flushed out of the pocket and drilled by New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis in Week 2, putting him in the hospital and changing the course of Patriots history.

Bledsoe thought he would have a level playing field when he was cleared to play. But after being told by Belichick he would have a chance to win his job back, he learned that wasn’t the case. What Bledsoe feels he was promised by Belichick didn’t happen. In Bledsoe’s eyes and heart, the starting job was awarded to Tom Brady, in the midst of a brilliant season, by default.

Despite fuming inside, and losing faith in Belichick (whom he championed to the Kraft family when they discussed bringing him back to New England as a head coach), Bledsoe kept his mouth shut. He took the high road and has stayed on it since.

And that is the way he would like to leave town. Quietly, and without any fanfare. He believes he has given the Patriots everything he had, through good and bad, and has earned his money, both on and off the field. He feels the Kraft family and Belichick should respect that and grant his wish to leave. He’s right.

Brady is Belichick’s man of the future. If the quarterback is smart, he and his agent will get a long-term, multimillion dollar contract done, because after seeing what happened to Bledsoe, Brady should realize that this is a business. Even though you get a huge contract for many years into the future, there are no guarantees. One hit can change all of that. Just ask Drew Bledsoe.

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