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
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
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
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
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."