What were you doing 14 years ago today? Forget? Well, there’s a good chance you were watching the evening news waiting for updates on the condition of the Patriots’ $100 million quarterback, Drew Bledsoe.
On September 23, 2001, Jets’ linebacker Mo Lewis changed the Patriots’ franchise forever.
With about 5 minutes left in regulation, Bledsoe was trying to get the 0-1 Patriots back into the game. He had failed to do much up to that point, posting a measly stat line of 18-28, 159 yds, 0 tds and 2 ints. The Jets were leading 10-3, but the game wasn’t even that close.
It was these kind of awful performances that had always infuriated Belichick and provided him with more reasons to want the quarterback gone.
According to one Jets’ coach who had been standing on the sideline prior to the game, Belichick “and [then offensive coordinator] Charlie Weis were saying, ‘We’re going to get fired.’ They [Belichick and Weis] were struggling, and they didn’t want Bledsoe as the quarterback, but they couldn’t get rid of him because he had too much power in the locker room.”
Better put, Bledsoe had too much power and too much money. Just that offseason, Kraft had opened his wallet to sign the 9-year veteran to a new 10-year, $103 million contract. It included an $8 million signing bonus, $6 million injury guarantee clause and three option periods for later restructuring.
“I remember feeling sad when Bobby Orr left,” Kraft said upon making the deal official. “I saw this as an opportunity to sign one of the great Patriots for the rest of his career.”
The thing was, Kraft had little idea that just over six months later, Bledsoe’s career would unexpectedly come to a screeching halt to make way for a young quarterback out of the University of Michigan.
Belichick responded to the signing by saying, “As a coach, it’s very important to know that your key players will be with you for a while. It makes it a lot easier for our planning.”
As we now know, Belichick was lying. For quite some time, he had felt Bledsoe was too slow. He was too stiff moving around in the pocket. He couldn’t avoid the rush. And, for all of these reasons, he had wanted to replace the team’s signal caller.
However, because of the coup Belichick nearly faced while the head coach of the Browns for releasing local legend Bernie Kosar, he was hesitant to abandon Bledsoe. If he had, especially after the quarterback just signed such a rich deal, it would have likely cost him more than his job. It’d cost him his career.
Fast forward to September 23. It was 3rd and 10. The Patriots’ offense set around their 18-yard line. Bledsoe took the snap and rolled to his right. He crossed the 20 and ran up field toward the sideline. Lewis quickly saw Bledsoe and sprinted across to meet him.
“We were in a nickle or dime package and when I dropped back all I could see was Drew Bledsoe rolling out to my left trying to get the first down, and I could hear [cornerback] Ray Mickens say, ‘Mo, go get him,” Mo Lewis recalled. “I thought Drew was going to slide, but he never did. He stood up and tried to get the first down, so he and I collided on that sideline.”
Instead of running out of bounds, like he normally would have, Bledsoe leaned his shoulder into the oncoming 6-foot-3-inch, 256 pound linebacker. It was a mismatch and Bledsoe tumbled to the ground with a loud thud.
What many forget is that Bledsoe actually went back into the game for one more series. At the time, no one knew Bledsoe was actually suffering from life threatening internal bleeding and a collapsed lung. He’d be transported to Mass General Hospital in Boston soon after. No one also knew it’d be the last regular season game the $100 million man would ever play for the Patriots.