NEW ORLEANS — New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick wanted to make sure Tom Brady is healthy.

Everything else, he already knows.

Belichick chose Brady to start at quarterback in the Super Bowl against the St. Louis Rams, passing on Drew Bledsoe for the poised former backup who won Bledsoe's job — and each of the Patriots' past eight games.

"Tom Brady demonstrated in practice that he is fit to play," Belichick said Wednesday after Brady showed no lingering problems from an ankle injury that knocked him out of the AFC title game. "He will be our starting quarterback on Sunday."

The decision means Bledsoe may have played his last game for the team that made him the first overall pick in 1993 and gave him a 10-year, $103 million contract last summer that remains the richest in NFL history.

Neither quarterback was available for comment after being informed of the decision by Belichick.

Belichick chose Brady with the 199th overall pick of the 2000 draft. The Patriots carried him on the roster all of last season as a rare fourth quarterback, but by this summer, Brady had vaulted over Michael Bishop and Damon Huard to be Bledsoe's primary backup.

When Bledsoe was injured in Week 2 — keeping him in the hospital for several days and out of practice for seven weeks — Brady filled in so well that Belichick stayed with him even after Bledsoe was ready to return.

Although Bledsoe was told he would have a chance to win his job back, Belichick soon decided he didn't have the practice time to hold a competition and still prepare for the week's opponent. He gave the job to Brady, and things couldn't have turned out better for New England ever since.

The 24-year-old Brady was the AFC's third-rated passer while leading the Patriots to an 11-5 record in the regular season. They were 5-11 last season and started this season 0-2.

New England won six consecutive games to win the division title and then beat the Oakland Raiders 16-13 in a snowy overtime to earn a spot in the conference title game.

But when Brady sprained his left ankle in the conference championship last Sunday, Bledsoe came on in relief, leading New England to a 24-17 win over Pittsburgh and creating a quarterback controversy on the game's biggest stage.

Belichick put off questions about who would start, saying he would wait until after Wednesday's practice to decide. He even asked a pool reporter not to identify who took the most snaps in practice, apparently figuring that would be a giveaway since the starter usually takes most of the practice snaps with the offense.

Before announcing his choice, Belichick took one last look at a videotape to make sure Brady was moving OK. When he was sure Brady's ankle wasn't a problem, he saw no reason to make a change.

Bledsoe, meantime, could be traded or dangled in the expansion draft with hopes the Houston Texans take his $7.5 million 2002 salary out from under the Patriots' cap. Or, the team could keep both quarterbacks. It's possible because Brady will cost only $370,833 next year.

Asked how he would feel if he were told in the offseason that Brady would be the quarterback next year, Bledsoe said, "The future's the future and, right now, we're focused on this game, this week, and whatever happens after that happens. Right now, we're not going to even address that."

Bledsoe, who will turn 30 on Feb. 14, doesn't want to remain a backup after being the Patriots' signature player for most of his career. Chicago, Seattle and Washington all are possible destinations — good teams that could use a better quarterback.