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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Circle of Football Life

When: Sunday, September 23, 2001
Where: Foxboro, Massachusetts
The Game: New York Jets at New England Patriots

The Situation: Jets linebacker Mo Lewis levels Drew Bledsoe as Bledsoe was running out of bounds. Bledsoe was briefly knocked unconscious, suffered internal bleeding and a collapsed lung. Bledsoe returned a series later, then left the game for good. Unknown, second-year backup Tom Brady replaced Bledsoe, ineffectively, throwing for less than 5 yards per attempt and no touchdowns. The Patriots would lose, 10-3, falling to the dreaded 0-2 record.

The Result: As the expression goes, "The rest is history." Brady remained the starting QB for the remainder of the season on the way to a victory in Super Bowl XXXVI and the beginning of a Hall of Fame career. Bledsoe, who had just quarterbacked the Patriots to Super Bowl XXXI five years earlier, would only appear as a backup for the remainder of the season.

Bledsoe, who had just signed a record 10-year $103 million contract in early 2001, was traded to the division rival Buffalo Bills during the 2002 offseason. Bledsoe had some good years with the Bills and a solid debut season with the Dallas Cowboys in 2005, but he would never throw another postseason pass. Brady went on to play in four more Super Bowls, winning two. Ironically, Bledsoe was benched in Dallas and replaced by Tony Romo, who also would go on to have a long career as the Cowboys starter.

The moment the NFL changed.

When: Monday, September 29, 2014
WhereKansas City, Missouri
The GameNew England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs

The Situation: During a pummeling on the road at Arrowhead Stadium, Tom Brady caps an abysmal evening by throwing a pick-six to Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah in the fourth quarter of a nationally televised embarrassment that was decided at halftime. Trailing 41-7, Brady is benched and replaced by rookie second round draft pick Jimmy Groppolo out of Eastern Illinois. Garoppolo is effective in relief, completing 86% of his passes, including one touchdown in at 41-14 debacle.

The Result: Brady is not getting benched for this week's Sunday Night Football game against the favored Cincinnati Bengals. But the clock is ticking on Brady's time as the Patriots' starter. Another repeat of Monday night - a poor enough performance by Brady to merit him being benched and another good relief appearance by Garoppolo - could signal the beginning of the end of Brady in New England.

Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick already demonstrated, when launching Brady's career, that he has limited loyalty to quarterbacks based on past success. The Patriots have demonstrated the willingness to eat a large signing bonus in exchange for a younger, less expensive, high-potential quarterback when Brady's career was launched 13 years ago. Jimmy Garoppolo was not drafted in the second round to sit on the bench forever; he was drafted to possibly eventually replace Tom Brady one day.

"One day" could come much sooner than expected for the 37-year-old Brady, who is next-to-last among current NFL starting quarterbacks in yards per game (Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders). When times are tough, the backup quarterback is often the most popular player on the team. Certainly, the notion that an established starter and elite quarterbacking talent who was part of multiple Patriots Super Bowl teams would be forsaken by his long-time Head Coach is ludicrous, right? Ask Drew Bledsoe.

History inevitably repeats itself in football.

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