It was any other hit.
Concussions happen, injuries happen. That’s the nature of football.
But when Jets linebacker Mo Lewis drilled Drew Bledsoe along the sideline in 2001, it wasn’t just the end of the Bledsoe era in New England — it was the catalyst that would lead to the birth of a dynasty that would last two decades.
With Bledsoe exiting the game with a brutal injury, it wasn’t as much about Bledsoe’s future with the team as it was the QB2 on the depth chart. Enter Tom Brady, the Patriots’ sixth-round pick from the 2000 NFL Draft.
Brady would finish the game for the injured Bledsoe, going 5-for-10 passing for 46 yards in the loss. What happened in the games, years and decades that followed, no one could have predicted.
But it still all started with Drew Bledsoe.
What happened to Drew Bledsoe?
Bledsoe, the team’s No. 1 pick in the 1993 NFL Draft, had recently signed a mega-contract to remain with the Patriots for the forseeable future. The Pats starter was one of the sparkplugs for New England picking itself up from being on the the worst organizations in the NFL to respectability.
During the fourth quarter of a fairly nondescript 2001 Week 2 game, the incumbent quarterback scrambled for a first down and was knocked for a loop by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis. Bledsoe was diagnosed with a lung injury that would sideline him for a month.
The Jets would go on to win the game 10-3 — but they would lose the two-decade war that followed.
Brady finished the season as Patriots starter, leading New England to the playoffs as head coach Bill Belichick hitched his wagon to the second-year QB, even after Bledsoe got healthy.
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 pick in April 2002, and the “Hoodie” was pretty 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 have only one starting quarterback,” Belichick said in 2001 via ESPN. “In the end, it can only be one guy. … When you put it all together, this is probably best.”
Bledsoe would have three Bledsoe-ian years with the Bills after the trade, including a massive 4,359-yard, 24 touchdown season in 2002 with Buffalo. The latter two seasons were lighter on the success: The veteran threw 31 touchdowns to 28 interceptions, with the team going 15-17 overall over the final two seasons, missing the playoffs all three years with the team.
While he maintains he loved playing in Buffalo, Bledsoe’s end with Buffalo was fairly bitter. When Bledsoe signed with the Cowboys in 2004, he revealed he couldn’t wait to get his children 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.
Signing a three-year contract to start for the Cowboys, Bledsoe was reunited with former Patriots coach Bill Parcells, who had taken the job in Dallas in 2003. The end of Bledsoe’s career was fairly unceremonious: In 2006, he was eventually benched for some guy named Tony Romo who would wind up being 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 took out Bledsoe? The questions are endless.
Though, Lewis did have a very productive, fairly long career with the Jets — he was a first-team All-Pro in 1998 — he’s mostly remembered as the dude who unleashed Brady onto the league.
Who knows what would have really happened?
What we do know is what actually happened — and the NFL is still feeling the after effects 20 years later.
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