5 of the biggest what-ifs for the Patriots during the Bill Belichick era

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What if Drew Bledsoe never got injured during the 2001 season?

One of the most league-defining decisions in NFL history has to be Bill Belichick keeping Tom Brady in as the Patriots starter after Drew Bledsoe returned from a nearly fatal injury during the 2000 season. It was a decision that led to the start of the Patriots dynasty, going on for almost two decades, and defined an era in Foxboro that never could have been imagined.

But what if Bledsoe had never gotten injured, forcing Brady to be put into the game?

The future Patriots Hall of Famer had recently been signed to a ten-year, $100 million contract to remain the face of the franchise. He was a leading force in bringing relevancy back to the team since he was drafted with the first overall pick in the 1993 draft.

During his tenure, Bledsoe helped break the Patriots' seven-year playoff drought and led them to the postseason four times, one of which ended with an appearance in Super Bowl XXXI. The Patriots won the AFC East twice and he was named to three Pro Bowls during the first eight years of his career, solidfying his role within the offense for an expected long career.

So when he suffered a near-fatal injury during the 2001 season and was replaced by questionable backup Tom Brady, he was expected to remain the starter once he was cleared to return to football. When Belichick ultimately decided that wouldn't be the case, the Patriots went on an incredible two-decade domination that never could have been predicted.

It was a decision Belichick didn't take lightly and went against owner Robert Kraft's preference to put Bledsoe back in the starting role. It ended up being the best choice the team had ever made, resulting in nine Super Bowl appearances and six wins, yet it all could have been a pipedream if the head coach did what Kraft wanted him to do.

It is wild to consider how the Patriots would have fared with Bledsoe compared to what they accomplished with Brady under center.

A controversial decision by Belichick laid the groundwork for what was to come over the next twenty years, surely something most fans outside of New England wish hadn't been made.