2001-2010 The Greatest Decade in New England Patriots History, Part 1 1996-2001
3 Super Bowl Victories, 4 Super Bowl Appearances, 137 Wins (Regular Season and Playoffs) , a 16-0 Regular Season, Closing Foxboro Stadium with the Greatest Playoff Game Ever, Opening up a gleaming palace that in 1994 most people thought was the untouchable dream.
To go forward, you must look at the past….
The Bill Parcells era ended after a trip to Super Bowl XXXI against the Green Bay Packers and a 35-21 loss in that game and the hiring of Pete Carroll, New England Patriots fans, knew that they had a team capable of returning to the NFL’s grandest Stage with a young core of QB Drew Bledsoe, RB Curtis Martin, WR Terry Glenn, TE Ben Coates, LB Tedy Bruschi, CB Ty Law, S Lawyer Milloy and K Adam Vinatieri. A loss in the 1997 Playoffs to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a 1998 Playoffs loss to Jacksonville and an 8-8 season in 1999, saw the Pete Carroll era in Foxborough end.
After the season Patriots Owner Bob Kraft, decided to reorganize and devote the team back to the winning football that he had hoped for all the years that he was a Patriots Season Ticket Holder and the dream he had when he first bought the team in 1994, to BRING A SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONSHIP TO THE FANS OF NEW ENGLAND. On January 27, 2000, he began the building process towards that by hiring Bill Belichick, the one time Head Coach of the Cleveland Browns, and a fruit off of the Bill Parcells Coaching Tree. After being on Bill Parcells’ Super Bowl Championship Coaching Staffs with the Giants and being a part of Parcells and the Patriots 1996 AFC Championship, this was an obvious choice for the Patriots and Mr. Kraft. Belichick started his Patriots career with a step back in the 2000 season with a 5-11 record. the 2001 season started the same way the 2000 Patriots campaign ended with hope and believe from the loyal members of Patriots Nation.
With a new mission statement the Patriots entered Free Agency near the Salary Cap and Belichick used the room that they had to sign veteran players at the league minimum to help the team grow and get better and used their 6th overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft on University of Georgia Defensive Lineman Richard Seymour. The 2001 Patriots started the season going 0-2, but in the 2nd game of the season the NFL’s 1st weekend back after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Patriots lost a game to the New York Jets, but in the loss the Jets, New England Patriots Franchise QB Drew Bledsoe was injured by Jets LB Mo Lewis near the sideline in the 4th Quarter of a 10-3 game. This injury in which Patriots fans feared the worst and hoped for a little bit better, brought a blessing in disguise.
Into the game came 2000 NFL Draft 6th Round Compensatory Pick, Tom Brady of Michigan into the game. even the most Die-hard of Patriots fans had no idea of what was to come not only from the team, but from this new QB who had seen limited action in the 2000 season. In the 3rd game of the season the Patriots faced the Indianapolis Colts, and their Franchise QB Peyton Manning, what would follow would not be just the 1st Win of what would become the Belichick and Brady era but a sign of things to come. After a 44-13 win in Foxoro over the Colts in which Tom Brady was effective but the Patriots would score on 2 Peyton Manning interceptions, Brady and the Patriots beat a Playoff team from the 2000 season and renewed some hope in Patriots fans, that the kid would be alright. The following week in Miami, against the previous seasons AFC East Champions would prove to be worse. Brady completed just 12 of 24 passes for under 100 yards, which would prompt Bill Belichick to bury the football from the game on the Patriots practice field. The following week saw Tom Brady’s 1st career 4th Quarter Comeback, down 26-16 in a game in which Brady would have his first career 300+ yard passing game (33-54 364 2 TD 0 Int), and Troy Brown and Terry Glenn would each have over 100 yard receiving games and Adam Vinatieri FG and a 3 yard Brady to Wiggins TD pass would tie the game at 26 and would bring the game into overtime, in which Vinatieri would kick the 1st of his game winning FG’s of the season. Week 6 would bring Drew Bledsoe’s return to the sideline and a trip to Indianapolis and Brady’s 1st road win a 38-17 beating of the Colts would bring the Patriots back to .500. At trip to Denver, a team in which the Patriots have had trouble with in past seasons came back to bite them. After defeating Atlanta and Buffalo in back to back weeks, the Patriots would welcome “The Greatest Show on Turf” to the humble confines of Foxboro Stadium in what would become a Super Bowl preview. A loss to the Rams on Sunday Night Football, put the Patriots at an impasse. At 5-5, where would the Patriots season go… Drew Bledsoe was cleared to play and Tom Brady was leading the Patriots to a 5-3 record, Bill Belichick had a decision to make and his decision was to stick with Tom Brady throughout the remainder of the season. With that and the instilled confidence in Brady the 2001 Patriots would not lose another game until the 2002 season. With 4 straight wins the Patriots hosted Miami in the last Regular Season game in Foxboro Stadium. On the line was the AFC East Crown, and these Patriots would not be denied in front of their home fans which at the time, could have been the last time they would have played in Foxboro Stadium. Tom Brady threw for a little over 100 yards and had a 23 yd reception and the Patriots clinched the Division as well as sending their fans home with what they thought was the last home game, or would it be???? The 2001 regular season would end with a week 16 bye, caused by the September 11 attacks and a week 17 game against the Carolina Panthers in which the Patriots would secure their first 10 plus win season since 1997, and AFC East Division Crown and a 1st Round Playoff Bye and a home game against the Oakland Raiders, in what would become the greatest playoff game ever.
The 2001 Divisional Round Playoff game against the Oakland Raiders, would be played Saturday, January 19, a game played through a driving snow storm. The 11-6 Raiders would get out to a 13-3 lead over the Pats, until another Tom Brady 4th Quarter comeback.
THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL Bob Breidenbach