After barely getting it done with Quincy Carter in 2003 and not even getting close with Vinny Testaverde last year, the Dallas Cowboys knew they needed an upgrade at quarterback to return to the postseason.
With a playoff-ready defense and running game, drafting a quarterback wasn’t the answer. Signing a retread free agent was.
"I just know the player and I thought he might have something to prove," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said of Drew Bledsoe, the 13-year veteran who was released by the Buffalo Bills in February after three seasons with the team.
"I thought he might have a chance if we could put enough around him."
By putting enough around him, Parcells of course meant providing the famously immobile Bledsoe with a solid offensive line and running game to keep defenders off his back.
Parcells implied before the season he simply wanted Bledsoe, who the coach drafted with the Patriots’ No. 1 overall pick in the 1993 draft, to manage the offense. He even referred to one of the most prolific passers in NFL history as the offense’s bus driver during the preseason.
"I never really liked the bus driver thing," Bledsoe said. "If anything I think it was a little bit of an insult to the guys we’re playing with to say we’re a bus. I think a pilot would be a more accurate deal with the weapons that I have around me."
Those weapons are emerging tight end Jason Witten and veteran receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn, who played with Bledsoe and for Parcells in New England. All three receivers have at least 30 catches this season.
Through seven games, Bledsoe is 137 of 220 (62.3 percent) for 1,799 yards and 12 touchdowns with six interceptions. His 94.9 QB rating is fifth-best in the NFL.
His biggest contributions have been in the closing moments of his team’s games, six of which have been decided on or near the final play. He threw game-winning touchdown passes to Johnson in wins over San Diego and San Francisco and was 3 of 4 for 49 yards on the game-winning drive in an overtime win over the Giants.
Bledsoe’s presence has helped the Cowboys improve their offensive ranking from 14th last year to sixth this season. They’ve already won four games, compared to six all last year.
All of which leads to one question. What the heck was Buffalo thinking?
"I still feel like I’m able to play the game at a very high level. My skills haven’t really diminished," said Bledsoe, who was dumped by the Bills in favor of second-year man J.P. Losman. "I felt like I still had a lot to offer to a team in this league and thankfully the Cowboys felt the same way."