Patriots: Revisiting Drew Bledsoe relieving Tom Brady in the 2001 AFC Championship

Never forget that Drew Bledsoe got Tom Brady and the Patriots to the Super Bowl in the first place.

Let’s take it back to January 2002, Patriots fans.

You’re about to watch your upstart Pats in the AFC Championship Game, heading to Pittsburgh under new leadership. The last time New England appeared in a playoff game of this magnitude, the Tuna was at the helm, and Drew Bledsoe was rocking the bright blues, and watching the Packers celebrate Super Bowl glory on the other sideline,

Now, the tables had turned. Tom Brady had taken hold of the reins after Jets pass rusher Mo Lewis unwittingly unleashed terror on his own team by taking Bledsoe out by the knee. The kid had posted a rock solid season, turning the team around from an 0-2 start and going 11-3 in games he began under center. TB12 (still an available trademark in 2002!) hoped to parlay the bizarre momentum of his playoff win in a driving blizzard against Oakland into another round of glory.

Alas, it didn’t work out. He was felled by the second quarter.

With 1:40 left in the second quarter and the Patriots leading 7-3 thanks to a 55-yard Troy Brown punt return TD, Brady found himself laid up after completing a 28-yard pass to Brown, and was forced to exit the game with an injury.

And, I guess that was it! No Brady, no dynasty, no point in recapping this further.

Except, by this point, Bledsoe was more than ready. He entered with the ball at the Pittsburgh 40, and four plays and three completed passes later, he was into the end zone. Consummate professional, that Drew Bledsoe, eh?

Overall, Bledsoe was more of a caretaker, going a clean 10-for-21 without a pick, while New England’s next TD came on a blocked field goal return. After the Patriots snuffed out a Kordell Stewart two-minute drill with a Lawyer Milloy interception, this one became an improbable 24-17 victory, which Brady will never forget, giving great credit to the man who entered in relief, one final time.

It’s not easy to win a playoff game, even though Tom Brady made us forget such things repeatedly over the years.

It’s certainly not easy to do so when you had no intention of playing one.

For this masterful relief effort, Drew Bledsoe will always have played a role in the Patriots’ dynasty, though certainly not the one he’d envisioned while watching the confetti drop on Brett Favre.