by Adam Small | 11/15/00 6:00am

They are an embarrassment, plain and simple. They are an embarrassment to Boston, to Massachusetts, to all of New England. No, I don't mean the Kennedys, I mean the New England Patriots -- the same team that went to the Super Bowl in 1996.

First, they have too much talent to be a 2-8 football team. Second, they don't have enough talent to be the 9-1 team they easily could be.

This team revolves around Drew Bledsoe. He is the franchise quarterback, and he has as much talent as any quarterback in the league when he doesn't have to move. Bledsoe is second only to Dan Marino for pure-pocket quarterbacks in the last 25 years. The man has guts, and nobody, not even the fickle Boston press, can dispute that any longer.

He is extremely good when he is allowed to live for a few seconds each on passing play. Unfortunately, he has been beaten on this year, and last year and the year before that. Bledsoe has been sacked, knocked down and forced to eat turf more often than a pregnant cow. The protection afforded "The Franchise" has been penetrated more easily than the Maginot line.

Surrounding Bledsoe with talent was always the primary concern of the Tuna (former Patriots coach Bill Parcells), and the ability of his supporting cast in 1996 made it easier to stomach the Thin Red Line that was already present.

Guess who's gone from that team: Curtis Martin, Shawn Jefferson, Ben Coates, Vincent Brisby and Sam Gash. The scaled-down arsenal is beginning to resemble the Japanese military. Even with all of those people gone, the Pats should be able to win with what they've got.

Terry Glenn is a high-quality receiver when he's not being a wuss (note last year's multi-week absence for a "nagging" groin injury) and Troy Brown may be the most underrated receiver in the league. Tony Simmons could be a great deep threat if he were utilized more and Kevin Faulk and J.R. Redmond have proven far more reliable than expected running the ball.

So why are the Patriots 25th in the NFL in scoring? Charlie Weiss, the Patriots offensive coordinator. He lacks simple judgment skills.

How many times have the Pats gone to that foolish no-back set, only to watch Bledsoe get pummeled by the blitz? Is it hard to figure out that five less-than-stellar offensive lineman can, in no way, shape or form, block six guys, especially when they rarely can block four?

Add to this Weiss' penchant for throwing to the worst players on the field. In a tight game earlier in the season, the final play of the game saw Bledsoe and Co. on the two-yard line, with one play to go, needing a touchdown. With the aforementioned five-some available, what play does Weiss call? He calls for a quick corner fade to Eric Bjornson. Bjornson is a slow tight end with no agility or leaping ability. How was he going to beat an agile safety on a timing pattern that required him to run nearly 20 yards in about three seconds?

Weiss repeatedly has shown an unwillingness to face the reality of the poor talent he has to work with. Having been with the Jets the last three years, he seems to expect Martin, Kyle Brady, Wayne Chrebet, and Keyshawn Johnson to show up to work each day, and its not going to happen.

Removing Weiss and going back to someone who knows how to open up the field where Bledsoe's arm can be utilized would be a good move. It would ease up defensive fronts, which might make running a little easier. Spacing the field out some might help Bledsoe avoid the blitz.

Coach Bill Belichick has done a remarkable job with the defense, which is 14th in the league in scoring, despite an unbelievable amount of injuries. With the addition of a legitimate number two cornerback in the off-season, the Pats should have one of the best defenses in the NFL next year.

But in the end it all comes back to talent. The Pats just don't have enough of it, and other teams do. Belichick may be a defensive wizard, but Weiss isn't even worthy of fourth grade science project marks for creativity. Change the offensive scheme, give Bledsoe a dependable fullback or tight end to pass to, and this offense will start to perform.

Bledsoe is just too good and has too much heart to not lead this team to victory if his coordinator allows it and if he's got the tools to work with. The team carries four quarterbacks, which is a waste when only one is going to play, even if he's injured to the point of not being able to throw more than 20 yards.

Its time for fans to realize that the Pats' most recent ex-coach Pete Carroll wasn't the ultimate problem, and that Bill Belichick isn't the panacea for all of the team's ills. It takes smart coaching and talent -- the kind that the Pats are going to have to go draft since they have too much money tied up in players who aren't quite performing as they were supposed to (Ty Law, this means you buddy, start covering people and not letting them make you look like you played college ball at Iowa instead of Michigan).

This season is shot, but New England can still make some noise. It must mobilize people, and maybe, just maybe, force the Pats to get some good talent to welcome a new stadium.