On September 23rd, 2001, the course of NFL history forever changed. On that day, Tom Brady was thrust into the role of starting quarterback for the New England Patriots. That day has led to four Super Bowl titles, three Super Bowl MVPs, two NFL MVPs, 10 Pro Bowls, two First-Team and one Second-Team All-Pro selections and a multitude of other career accolades.
What has been seemingly forgotten are the circumstances that started it all. The 0-1 Patriots were taking on the New York Jets, when Jets linebacker Mo Lewis demolished the Patriots franchise QB Drew Bledsoe with a hit that would cause internal bleeding, knocking him out of the next seven contests.
Prior to the start of that season, Bledsoe signed the richest contract in NFL history, a six-year $103 million pact. Bledsoe was a three-time Pro Bowler, No. 1 overall pick and one of the top QBs in the league, but just like every other player, he was not immune to injury.
During his absence, the Patriots went 5-2, prompting Bill Belichick to make the decision to stick with the young Brady over the now healthy Bledsoe. The highest paid player in NFL History had become the backup to a second-year player.
Brady finished the regular season 11-3 as the Patriots starter and entered the postseason with Bledsoe as his backup. After a home win against Oakland, in which Brady played poorly, he suffered a knee injury in the AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh, forcing Bledsoe back into action to save the Patriots season.
Bledsoe finished the game 10-of-21 passing for 102 yards and the game-winning touchdown. After the game he petitioned Belichick to start in the Super Bowl, a petition that failed, leaving the rest for the history books.
Drew Bledsoe was the highest paid player in history, a Pro Bowler and the team's franchise QB in his prime. He lost his job to an injury. The same happened to Alex Smith and Joe Montana in San Francisco, and Trent Green and Kurt Warner in St. Louis. It’s something that happens. It’s a part of life in the NFL. That is what is happening right now in Denver to Peyton Manning.
Manning is injured and may not be 100 percent again this season. It’s the cruel reality of what Father Time does to everyone eventually. The 2001 Patriots are eerily similar to the 2015 Denver Broncos; they were under a second year head coach, they had a dominant defense and they were led by a young signal caller taking over for a highly paid QB.
Tom Brady was 24 years old during the 2001 season. Brock Osweiler was 24 when he found out he would start his first game for the Denver Broncos. The Patriots title hopes were tied to their high-paid QB. If he went down, so did their chances at a championship, a narrative that was also believed to apply to the Denver Broncos. The similarities are clear.
Many will read this and be upset with the comparison. To them I ask, why?
To have the kind of career Tom Brady has had would make Brock one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but stopping short of that, to have the kind of season Brady had in his first year would make the Denver Broncos Super Bowl champions.
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