Concussions happen, injuries happen. That is the nature of football.
But when Jets linebacker Mo Lewis Drew Bledsoe drilled down the sidelines in 2001, it wasn’t just the end of New England’s Bledsoe era — it was the catalyst that would lead to the birth of a dynasty that would last two decades.
With Bledsoe leaving the game with a brutal injury, it wasn’t so much about Bledsoe’s future with the team, but the QB2 on the depth chart. Enter Tom Brady, the Patriots’ sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft.
Brady would finish the game for the injured Bledsoe, going 5-for-10 for 46 yards in the loss. What happened in the games, years and decades that followed, no one could have predicted.
But it all started with Drew Bledsoe.
What happened to Drew Bledsoe?
Bledsoe, the team’s No. 1 in the 1993 NFL Draft, had recently signed a mega contract to stay with the Patriots for the foreseeable future. The Pats starter was one of the spark plugs for New England picking itself up from the worst organizations in the NFL to respectability.
During the fourth quarter of a fairly unremarkable game in Week 2 of 2001, the incumbent quarterback scrambled for a first and was looped by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis. Bledsoe was diagnosed with a lung injury that would sideline him for a month.
The Jets would win the game 10-3, but they would lose the two-decade war that followed.
Brady finished the season as a Patriots starter, leading New England into the playoffs as head coach Bill Belichick towed his wagon into sophomore QB even after Bledsoe recovered.
Bledsoe would see the field again in the AFC Championship game, replacing an injured Brady and leading a scoring drive that pushed the Patriots to Super Bowl 36. That would be the last time Bledsoe would see the field as a patriot, and the first ring of “Tom Terrific’s” career.
… The first of six in New England and seven overall. Thanks again, Mo Lewis.
Belichick would trade Bledsoe to the Bills for a 2003 first round in April 2002, and the “Hoodie” was quite candid about why he decided to move on from Bledsoe. Really, everyone saw why, but Belichick reaffirmed it:
“We all knew what the situation was: A football team can only have one starting quarterback,” Belichick said in 2001 via ESPN. “In the end, it can only be one man. … If you add it all up, it’s probably best.”
After the transaction, Bledsoe would have three Bledsoe years with the Bills, including a massive 4,359-yard, 24 touchdown season in 2002 with Buffalo. The last two seasons were less successful: The veteran threw 31 touchdowns to 28 interceptions, with the team finishing 15-17 overall in the last two seasons and missing the playoffs all three years with the team.
Although he claims he loved playing in Buffalo, Bledsoe’s ending with Buffalo was quite bitter. When Bledsoe signed with the Cowboys in 2004, he revealed he couldn’t wait to get his kids out of Bills gear.
“I can’t wait to go home and dress my kids in little stars and get rid of the other team’s stuff,” Bledsoe famously said.
Bledsoe signed a three-year deal to start for the Cowboys and reunited with former Patriots coach Bill Parcells, who had taken the job in Dallas in 2003. man named Tony Romo who would end up as Dallas’ QB of the future.
Bledsoe announced his retirement in 2007.
What if Mo Lewis never hurt Drew Bledsoe?
But what if Mo Lewis never knocked out Bledsoe? The questions are endless.
Will Tom Brady ever get a chance in New England? Bledsoe signed a $103 million 10-year contract prior to the 2001 season. “I have expressed my desire over and over to play my entire career with the New England Patriots,” Bledsoe said in 2001 via the New York Times. “Looks like that’s a very real possibility.”
Will Tom Brady be the GOAT? There was never much doubt that from the moment he stepped onto a football field, Brady was the real deal. But will Tom be Brady? leaving Brady if Bledsoe never gets hurt, and away from Foxborough and Bill Belichick?
How long does Belichick take in New England? There’s no denying that signing a big deal Bledsoe would have given Belichick a leash a little longer, but it was also no secret that Belichick was in love with Brady as the No. 2 QB in New England, despite it being a late round wash pick. Belichick went 5-11 in his freshman year in New England (after resigning as the HC from the Jets) and started the 2001 season 0-2. It didn’t look good for old Bill over there.
Will the Jets be football’s next great dynasty? Well, probably not.
However, Lewis had a very prolific, quite long career with the Jets – he was a first-team All-Pro in 1998 – he is mostly remembered as the guy Brady unleashed on the league.
Who knows what would really have happened?
What we do know is what actually happened — and the NFL is still feeling the aftereffects 20 years later.