Fifty Years Of Patriots Football: 2000-2001
At the dawn of a new decade and millennium, the Patriots were looking for a new leader. They found that leader in Bill Belichick but getting him wouldn’t be that easy.
Bill Belichick was on Bill Parcells’ staff at the rival New York Jets. To make it even more complicated, when Parcells stepped down at the conclusion of the 1999 season, he promoted Belichick to be his predecessor.
Belichick partook in a press conference to announce his new position as the head coach of the New York Jets, but he shook the Big Apple to its core. He announced that he was resigning.
Bill Belichick shortly thereafter signed with the New England Patriots as their new head coach.
Bill Parcells and the Jets claimed Belichick was still under contract with the Jets. They felt they deserved compensation for Belichick jumping ship. NFL Commissioner Peter Tagliabue agreed and the Patriots had to surrender a first round pick in the 2000 draft.
The New York-New England rivalry had now reached epic proportions.
Belichick would not only be coach but he would have final say in personnel decisions. Scott Pioli, who was hired by the Patriots as personnel director, would work in tandem with the head coach.
Belichick also brought in long time colleagues Charlie Weis on offense and Romeo Crennel on defense to round out his staff.
The front office and coaching staff was now in place, but what about the product on the field?
The 2000 season would be a year to evaluate team talent and see how far the Patriots were from being a competitive franchise.
New England started out slowly from the get go. They would drop their first four games by a combined 21 points. The Patriots showed fight but they just couldn’t win the close games.
Games which champions find ways to win.
The Patriots would go 5-7 the rest of the way to finish at 5-11 and dead last in the AFC East.
Changes would be coming some at the hands of Bill Belichick and some at the hands of fate.
The 2001 season would start with a disappointing lost to Cincinnati, 23-17. A game that New England was tied at the half but would come unraveled soon after.
Two days later on September 11th, America was attacked in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington by Al Qaeda terrorists.
NFL decided to postpone all its games and rightfully so. The country needed time to mourn before returning to “normalcy” once again. However, the United States would never be the same after that horrific day.
The Patriots next game at home against the New York Jets was played on September 23rd with much emotion. New England offensive lineman, Joe Andruzzi had brothers that were NYC firefighters who responded to the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. They were rightfully honored before the game which didn’t leave a dry eye in Foxboro Stadium.
This game was also the turning point for the Patriots as a franchise. Long time Patriots quarterback, Drew Bledsoe the face of the franchise since 1993, rolled out to his right and scrambled to the sideline.
Then came the hit that changed the Patriots forever.
Jets linebacker, Mo Lewis, threw his shoulder into Bledsoe’s chest and he fell to the ground after the thunderous hit.
Bledsoe came out of the game and was replaced by the seventh rounder out of Michigan, Tom Brady.
Brady could not lead a comeback in his first professional start and New England fell, 10-3.
It was later learned that Drew Bledsoe had internal bleeding and could have died. He would be shelved indefinitely.
The team was now Tom Brady’s.
Brady would show great leadership at such a young age. He would lead New England to an 11-3 record in games he started which included a comeback versus San Diego.
This game would mark the Birth of Brady as a NFL quarterback. Tom Brady went 33 for 54 for 364 yards and two touchdowns leading the Patriots back from a 26-16 deficit. He would lead a tying driving in the final minutes and winning drive in OT to set up Adam Vinatieri for a clinching field goal.
New England would need to beat Carolina in the last week of the season to clinch the AFC East and a first round bye. They dominated the Panthers 38-6 to cap off a miraculous 2001 regular season.
Next on the playoff schedule, the Oakland Raiders.
This would be the last game in Foxboro stadium and it didn’t disappoint. During a driving snowstorm, the Raiders and Patriots would meet in the AFC divisional playoffs.
The Oakland Raiders offense led by Rich Gannon, Jerry Rice, and Tim Brown was slowed by the inclement weather, but was far from stopped. They were able to convert the crucial plays when they needed them and opened a 13-3 lead at the half.
Tom Brady just added to his growing legend during this snowy night. Brady ran for a score to close the game to 13-10. However, the Patriots were still down by 3 points. Brady went back for a pass and was blind sided by corner Charles Woodson.
Oakland recovers the ball.
Playoff dreams dashed.
Not so fast.
The referee ruled that Brady was tucking the ball back and it was an incomplete pass. The Foxboro crowd exploded with joy. New England had a second chance and wouldn’t let it slip away.
Brady would drive the team yet again to set up Adam Vinatieri’s dramatic 45 yard field goal to tie the contest at 13.
New England won the coin toss then the game on another kick off Mr. Vinatieri’s foot. The Patriots beat the Raiders in one of the most amazing and equally bizarre games in NFL history.
This win catapulted the Patriots on a playoff ride for the ages. They would beat the heavily favored Steelers in Pittsburgh, 24-17 in the AFC Championship Game highlighted by the play of Troy Brown(punt return for a td and blocked kick recovery) and yes, Drew Bledsoe.
Drew Bledsoe came off the bench in Hollywood like fashion. He came in for an injured Tom Brady in the first half. Bledsoe only went 10 for 21 for 102 yards, but connected with David Patten on 11 yard pass. He also took a thunderous Mo Lewis like hit yet again but popped up with his fists flaring.
Patriots’ fans were able to enjoy vintage Drew Bledsoe one more time.
Next stop would be Super Bowl XXXIV in New Orleans first against the “Greatest Show on Turf”. The Patriots would be pitted against the #1 offense in league in the St.Louis Rams. All the “experts” picked the Rams by double digits points and didn’t give the upstart Patriots much of a chance.
But as Chris Berman has said, “That’s why they play the games!”
Tom Brady would be healthy enough to play in the Super Bowl putting to end any quarterback controversy.
The Patriots wearing their red, white, and blue uniforms came out of the tunnel and were announced as a team. There was no room for individual egos on this team of overachievers.
New England came out like gangbusters. They would beat and batter the Rams’ offense. St. Louis quarterback, Kurt Warner was under duress much of the first half. The relentless Patriots pressure assisted on the Patriots first score.
Linebacker, Mike Vrabel another unsung hero taken from the scrap heap in Pittsburgh, hit Warner causing him to throw erratically. The misguided pass landed right in the hands of cornerback, Ty Law for a 47 yard interception return for a score.
The Patriots built off this momentum and opened a 17-3 lead going into the fourth quarter. New England was only one quarter away from their first championship in team history.
However, you can never count a lethal offense out like the one the Rams had. Kurt Warner got his sputtering team going and leading them on two scoring drives to tie the game at 17. The last touchdown coming with only 1:30 left on the game clock.
All of New England was gasping and had sweaty palms. Was this going to be yet heartbreak in Boston Sports history?
Not if Tom Brady had something to say about it.
The Rams left Brady too much time on the clock. He had a little over a minute, but with no timeouts.
TV commentator and former NFL coach, John Madden thought Brady should kneel on the ball and take his chances in OT.
Drew Bledsoe told Brady, “Go out there and sling it!”
And he did.
Brady was cool under pressure and led the Pats to the Rams’ 30 yard line with 7 seconds remaining. This would give Adam Vinatieri center stage on the biggest sports showcase in the world.
He had been clutch before in the snow versus Oakland.
Could he be clutch again?
The 48 yard kick was never in doubt as it split the uprights.
Patriot’s radio announcer, Gil Santos, yelled in jubilation, “It’s good. It’s good!”
Vinatieri’s hands pumped in the air and the Patriots stormed the field.
Images of Lawyer Milloy hugging Bill Belichick and Tom Brady at the podium pointing to his family in the stands will be lasting memories of one of the greatest moments in Boston sports history.
The Patriots were champions.
Brady was a budding superstar.
But, how could they possibly top this in 2002?
Check out the rest of the installments in the series: