Tom Brady might not be where he is today without Mo Lewis’ hit on Drew Bledsoe. (Noah K. Murray/USA Today Sports)
Friday is the 15-year anniversary of the day the Patriots franchise changed forever.
After missing a week of games because of the events that happened on Sept 11., the Patriots hosted the Jets at Foxboro Stadium and the Jets led 10-3 with just 5:10 remaining and it was third-and-10 at the New England 19-yard line.
Drew Bledsoe scrambled to his right out of the pocket and picked up eight yards before heading out of bounds and linebacker Mo Lewis drilled him in the left side knocking him out of bounds and out of the game.
“I didn’t really see Lewis, because all I saw was the first down marker,” Bledsoe recalled to NFL.com’s (formerly of Sports Illustrated) Don Banks this week. “It was third down and while I was running toward the sideline, I couldn’t just go out of bounds short of the first down marker, not in that situation late in the game. So I tried to cut back inside and see if I could get the first down, and when I did that, I gave up my body to take the hit.
“People forget that after I got hit, I went back in the game the next series. And the reason why I came out of the game after that series was because I had a concussion as well, and I didn’t know which way was right and which way was left, and didn’t know my two-minute plays, which we had run for two years. I didn’t know I was seriously hurt until after the game.”
Backup quarterback Tom Brady entered the game after Bledsoe played the next possession and tried to tie the game, but after getting three first downs the drive fell short and the Jets won the game.
“Everything happened so fast and I think I was just reacting to the moment,” Brady said. “I felt prepared, and really it felt like football. Like something I had done many times before. I was bummed we lost, because we had some chances at the end. But it wasn’t until mid-week when we knew the extent of what Drew was dealing with. Again, I was just taking things as they came, and I tried to make the best of the situation, as it was tough for everybody, with somebody I respected so much like I did Drew.”
The seriousness of the hit didn’t come right away for Bledsoe — it was once he got back into the locker room.
“After the game, I was headed into the locker room with Ron O’Neil, our trainer, and he said “Why don’t you come with me, Bub.” He called everybody Bub,” Bledsoe recalled. “And I said, no I’m going to go in for team prayer, and then I’ll come see you. And he goes, “Nah, I think you need to come with me, now.” So we went in and Bert Zarins, our team doctor is there. He said the thing that really tipped him off that something was really wrong is that normally when you have a concussion, your heart rate starts to slow down pretty quickly. And instead of my heart rate slowing down, mine started to climb pretty dramatically. So that’s when he knew we were dealing with something that was more serious.
“So they put me in the ambulance and I really don’t remember much of that drive in. But my brother, Adam, got in the ambulance with me, and they couldn’t give me anything for pain because I’m allergic to morphine.
“I don’t remember this, but my brother said as we were driving and were just approaching the outskirts of Boston, I just went lights out. I just passed out, just from lack of blood. And he thinks I’m dying and he’s screaming at the ambulance drivers to get there, get there, and the next thing I know I wake up in the hospital, with a tube in my chest that was pumping blood out of my chest, and another tube putting it back in.
“I don’t think I really knew how serious everything was for a couple days afterward, but yeah if our trainer hadn’t intervened — because I just wanted to go home — and if our team doctor hadn’t sent me to the hospital, things could have been really different.
The Patriots went 11-3 with Brady at quarterback the remainder of the regular season and made it to the AFC championship game where they upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Bledsoe got into the game in the second half as Brady suffered an ankle injury.
While Brady would go on to play in the Super Bowl, it meant something to Bledsoe to be able to contribute.
“It did feel good to come back and play in that AFC championship game,” he said. “It did make the whole thing feel a bit better, to at least get back on the field during that run. The only hard part was that I tell people it was like giving a starving man a cracker. You just get a little taste of it, and then I had to go back on the sideline for the Super Bowl.
“But the thing that people don’t realize about that season — when I got to training camp and stepped into the huddle for the first time, I really thought we had a shot. For the simple reason being we had an offensive line that was going to be outstanding. The thing I really remember distinctly about coming into that AFC championship game was the first couple throws I made, I threw the ball and then I stood there and watched the ball get completed and nobody touched me.
“I just remember thinking, ‘OK, this is pretty cool. Chuck the ball, watch it get caught and you don’t get hit.’ So that O-line group really had come together and that’s why I believed in training camp that we really had a shot, and that ultimately ended up being the case.”
15 years later, the Patriots franchise has completely changed as the playing time allowed Brady to debut and now become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time.
Who knows where Brady would have ended up if Bledsoe didn’t get hurt on that September day.
“Tom is a guy that always had that amazing work ethic and is a natural leader, but I don’t think anybody outside of Tom himself had the impression he was going to ultimately be a long-term starter in the NFL, let alone be a guy considered one of the all-time best,” Bledsoe said. “I felt like he was going to be a guy who was going to be around the league for a long time, and may get a chance to start for somebody somewhere. But ultimately he ended up having the opportunity to play for the best organization in football, and he as he grew into it and became a lynchpin for that organization.
“But if I hadn’t gotten hurt, maybe that doesn’t happen. Maybe he ends up with another organization, and winds up helping somebody else out.”
To read the complete Banks story, click here.