With 1:50 left in a snowy game in Foxboro on January 19th 2002, one franchise was changed forever. Everyone knows that the Patriots benefited greatly from the “Tuck Rule,” but may there be a team besides the Raiders that missed a great opportunity? Sitting in my usual seat in the north end zone, I watched Brady drop back to pass, I saw Woodson coming from behind, and I saw Greg Biekert fall on the ball just before Jermaine Wiggins could get there. The unbelievable run that the Patriots were on was finally over. Then someone amazing happened, the call was reversed.
It was an unreal moment, but as we approach the first game against Buffalo this season, I started to think about what would have happened if the play had never been reversed, and how both teams playing this Monday night may be drastically different if it did not. Before we talk about what would have happened if it wasn’t overturned, let’s look at some possible scenarios as to why.
First there is the obvious one that Walt Coleman could have decided that it was a fumble and the Tuck Rule would not have been enforced, but this seems unlikely, because he has come out and said that it was an “obvious” call. So what if the play happened a few plays earlier, before the two minute warning? The Patriots were out of timeouts and would not have been able to challenge the play, and since it was called a fumble on the field, the Raiders would have been able to kill the rest of the clock, and send the Patriots packing.
What if the music crew had not blasted “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins while Coleman was reviewing the play? I may not be able to prove that it made a difference, but something started happening when that song came on, I felt it, and I would be willing to bet that anyone there that night would tell you the same thing. So what if any of these three things were different on the night of January 19th? Clearly the Patriots would not have won their first Super Bowl against the Rams, but would there have been bigger consequences?
The quarterback controversy had been brewing since Drew Bledsoe had come back to the team from the vicious hit that Mo Lewis inflicted in Week 2. I know that is hard to believe now, but people were split on who should start the Super Bowl after Brady went down in the AFC Championship and Bledsoe led them to a victory. So what if Bill had chosen wrong? What if he decided that he was going to go with the proven veteran over the young kid? What if the Patriots traded Brady to Buffalo instead of Bledsoe?
I think that we can agree that both franchises would be very different now. Would Brady have led the Bills to the playoffs, something that Bledsoe, or any other quarterback before last year was able to do? Would Bledsoe have been able to lead the Patriots to wins in Super Bowls 38 and 39? Would the Patriots have won a Super Bowl at all? What about replacing Bledsoe?
The Bills have had their challenges with quarterbacks. With Josh Allen still injured, the Bills are once again turning to Derek Anderson to start for them Monday night. Anderson is the 15th starting quarterback since the Bledsoe trade in 2002, if you count Matt Cassel, who played QB on the first play of the game with Taylor lined up at WR. They have drafted four quarterbacks in the first 3 rounds, E.J. Manuel, J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, and Allen this year.
But what about the Patriots? Had they traded Brady, they would’ve needed to replace Bledsoe eventually. They’ve actually taken quite a few quarterbacks that didn’t work out in the draft, but the obvious success of Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett, and Matt Cassel could convince you they would’ve figured it out, but they’ve drafted some pretty bad quarterbacks since 2001. Think Kevin O’Connell and Ryan Mallet, both fourth round picks.
Now there is no telling what would have happened if Brady was in that deal instead of Bledsoe. Maybe he would have never succeeded under Gregg Williams, and with the curse that seems to be hanging over the Bills. Maybe Bledsoe would have been great, and Belichick would have molded him to his system, and then found a competent replacement for him when he retired. Or maybe the fortunes of these two franchises would be flipped, with the Bills being perennial winners of the AFC East, and the Patriots going through seven head coaches and being the last NFL team to make the playoffs this century.
All I know is that, as a Patriots fan, I am happy we never had to find out.
Pat is one of the hosts of the Patriot Nation Podcast
Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats