Patriots’ alternate history if the Tuck Rule never happened

The 20th anniversary of the “Tuck Rule” Game arrived this past Wednesday — or, as New England Patriots fans call it, “The Snow Game,” “The Vinatieri Game” or “The Extremely Normal Game.”

Though most of us had never heard of the Tuck Rule before Tom Brady’s arm was bashed by the Raiders’ defense, it’s clear the referees interpreted the letter of the law correctly, as bizarre as that law might be (it’s since been stricken from the record, of course).

But let’s say the moment that shifted power in the AFC never happens. Or maybe … the Terry Bradshaw Steelers got boned by the rule decades prior, and the NFL erased it from the referee manual way, way earlier. How does the Patriots’ dynasty change?

In short … Tom Brady, loser of his first career playoff game at home, enters 2002 in an open QB competition with a now-recovered Drew Bledsoe. Somewhere in East Rutherford, Mo Lewis snaps his fingers in frustration.

Damn. Almost had him.

How does Patriots history change if the Tuck Rule never happens?

Bledsoe, owner of a “lifetime contract” with the Patriots, beats out TB12 that summer — it’s only logical, but when the postseason arrives, Raiders QB Rich Gannon isn’t scared of that. After all, he already beat New England in the most dire of circumstances the season prior.

Oakland waltzes past Bledsoe en route to the Super Bowl against the Bucs, and Bob Kraft realizes it’s time for a change. If Bill Belichick can’t get over the Oakland hump as-is, something has to be removed from the equation.

Sorry, Drew. Sorry, Tom. We were wrong. Bledsoe’s foisted on Buffalo, Brady slots into the starting role, and the greatest tandem in NFL history officially gets its start, just one year later than in the current timeline.

After all, you can only keep destiny down so long, right?

From that point on, the Patriots secure their franchise-first Super Bowl victory in Feb. 2004 — but not against the Carolina Panthers. No, the double-overtime game in that year’s NFC divisional round would’ve been reversed, with Marc Bulger and the St. Louis Rams prevailing 29-23 instead of Jake Delhomme.

Then, in the Super Bowl, the vilified “game manager” would’ve gotten a chance to extinguish the Greatest Show on Turf himself with a last-second drive — and it would’ve hurt just as much without Kurt Warner under center.

So, what? This timeline ends with five Super Bowls for TB12 in New England, not six? Well … not quite.

On the verge of a perfect season, the Patriots’ sideline was forced to watch in horror as Eli Manning heaved a pass down the middle to David Tyree, who caught the ball against his helmet … only for the referees to get under the hood and flip all the way to page 364 of the rulebook, which states, “Any catch made using a regulation piece of equipment rather than two hands must have been pre-approved by the lead official.” What?! That makes no sense, but … letter of the law. Disallowed.

Again … what did we say about destiny? No matter how you try, you can’t stop its momentum. Greatness will always settle.