By: Ian Logue/PatsFans.com
October 30, 2002

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September 23rd, 2001.  A warm humid day at Foxboro Stadium when life for Patriots fans and Quarterback Drew Bledsoe changed forever.

Trailing the New York Jets 10-3 in the fourth quarter Bledsoe took the field following a possession in which he had thrown an interception in the endzone ending a potential scoring opportunity for the Patriots.

After the interception fans had booed him as he left the field.  They were angry and frustrated.  After all, losing to the Cincinnati Bengals to open the season had left a sour taste in their mouths, and the thought of a season like the 5-11 one the year before was enough to make anyone want to vomit.

To make matters worse there was certainly plenty of frustration built up after learning that wide receiver Terry Glenn would be out the first four games due to a drug violation.  It was a season many believed may have gone up in smoke before it even opened.  The optimism had begun turn to doubt, although New England fans still believed that anything could happen on any given Sunday, but whether or not that applied to their team remained to be seen.

As for Bledsoe he had always had his critics.  He wasn't mobile enough, he couldn't step up in big games.  He wasn't tough enough.  The latter statement alone was one that seemed ludicrous to anyone who followed #11's career.  He suffered a separated shoulder in 1995 yet missed just one game before finishing the rest of the season while playing hurt.

A broken index finger in 1998 finally sidelined him for the remainder of the season (two games).  He had however played three games with the injury before finally having to call it a season when the pins that had held the bone in place poked through the skin.  The second injury caused another surgery, and left a permanent lump that for those who have viewed it up close also noticed has a slight crook to the tip of it.

He had been sacked 100 times from 1999-2001, with defensive lineman Warren Sapp finding a new found respect for Bledsoe after the Tampa Bay home opener in 2000 at Foxboro Stadium.   The Bucs hit Bledsoe repeatedly that game, and each time he came right back, nearly beating them on the final play of the game when a pass went incomplete.

The team struggled that season and the name Michael Bishop was chanted throughout the year whenever a Bledsoe pass fell incomplete or an interception thrown.  Bishop, a former 4th string quarterback impressed the Foxboro Faithful who had stuck around during the 4th quarter of Pre Season games as Bishop tossed touchdown passes and scrambled and made plays against guys who like himself right now are out of the NFL.

They wanted a running quarterback and a guy who could run for the 1st down if it couldn't be thrown in order to help their team win football games.

Which leads us back to that September evening.

There the Patriots were, taking the field against the Jets at their own 19-yard line with 5:45 remaining in the game.  An incompletion to fullback Marc Edwards set up 2nd-and-10.  Bledsoe dropped back to pass and fired a strike to Bert Emanual who was taken down at the New England 36 for a 17-yard gain.  But the catch was questionable and the officials on hand reviewed the play, and the replay revealed Emanual didn't make the catch.

The crowd on hand was now beside themselves, and Bledsoe certainly probably heard them.  He came out facing a critical 3rd-and-10, and his team needed to get the first down.

Up on the scoreboard the clock read 5:11.  The moment before Bledsoe would take a snap that would change his life forever.

Calling signals Bledsoe took the snap and dropped back looking down the field.  The Jets defense was coming hard, and you could see in his eyes how badly Bledsoe knew he needed to make a play.  He rolled to his right, and off he went, racing up the sideline toward the first down marker.  Coming hard in the distance was linebacker Mo Lewis, and for a moment Bledsoe slowed up, looking as if he thought for a split second he should simply run out of bounds and take their chances with punting the football.

But he kept going, most likely because he felt his 6'5" 240-pound frame could take on Lewis and he could get those two extra yards his team needed to move the chains and give him a fresh set of downs to give him the opportunity to mount a comeback.

Then came a violent collision.  The ball left Bledsoe's hands and he fell in a heap to the ground.  For those who watched and saw him motionless on the ground deep down immediately knew something was wrong.

He was hurt, and for the moment no one truly knew how badly injured he was.

4:48 was the time left on the clock.  The moment the Drew Bledsoe era ended in New England.

After the collision he was examined by doctors on the sideline and apparently told them he was O.K. enough to come back into the game, and after the New England defense forced the Jets to punt, he jogged back to the huddle and was greeted by a sea of boos from fans who felt they had finally seen enough of him.

Little did they know it would be the last time they would see him in a Patriots uniform at Foxboro Stadium.

He was bleeding internally from a sheared blood vessel he had suffered as a result of the collision just two minutes earlier, an injury that was potentially life-threatening.  Bledsoe came to the huddle and called the play, they broke and the team lined up, but something didn't seem right.  They ran the ball twice, and a false start penalty on Kevin Faulk was followed by a fumble by Marc Edwards after a pass from Bledsoe.

The Jets recovered and Bledsoe again left the field, and on the sidelines his teammates had seen enough to know something was wrong.  He apparently didn't sound right to them in the huddle or on the sidelines, and Belichick replaced him with 2nd year quarterback Tom Brady, raising the eyebrow of all who watched when they weren't aware the move had actually been made because Bledsoe was incoherent due to the, at the time, unknown injury.

When the game was over he left the field, and entered the locker room where he was later taken out on a stretcher to Massachusetts General Hospital.  Tests showed that he was bleeding internally from the blood vessel and had lost nearly half of his blood supply as it drained into the chest cavity which caused him to need a chest tube inserted to drain it.

He remained in the hospital until September 26th, and the first place he went after leaving was the Patriots practice field to give support to his teammates who were preparing to face the Indianapolis Colts.

Said Colts QB Peyton Manning that week leading up to the game, "People ask, well, why didn't he get out of bounds? Heck, he was trying to win the game for his team."

"He's always been one of the toughest quarterbacks around and I've always appreciated how he's always been there for his team."

And it was the sidelines where he remained for the remainder of the season after Belichick chose to stick with Brady who went on to lead the team to their first ever championship.  Bledsoe did return one final time in the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers after Brady was injured and led New England to their first AFC title since the 1996 season. He threw a touchdown pass during the game, one of only three offensive touchdowns during the postseason.

The Bledsoe era ended suddenly that night in New England, and only time will tell if he'll join the list of Boston athletes who later came back to haunt their football team.  Sunday's game against Buffalo, the team he now plays for after being traded back in April, certainly has that much more drama now that he is the quarterback.

But his days in New England are over, and as excited as he is for this weeks game, he's happy that things worked out the way they did.

"The situation last year was tough for me personally," Bledsoe told the media on Wednesday in a conference call. "But it was also
gratifying to be a part of a championship team.  I have my Super Bowl ring, I won it, I'm proud of being part of that team."

"I've moved on. I'm really enjoying the situation here this year."


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