NOVAK: What if Bledsoe never got hurt?

It has been 17 years since Drew Bledsoe lost his starting job to Tom Brady.

One play changed the fate of not only Bledsoe and Brady, but the New England Patriots and the National Football League.

As the Super Bowl was winding down and Brady and the Patriots were about to win their sixth championship, I thought back to the events of Sept. 23, 2001.

What if Bledsoe had never gotten injured on that play, just the second week into the season? What if Tom Brady would have never been called upon to replace the injured star quarterback, who had a bright future ahead of him in New England?

I think about how a healthy Bledsoe would have kept Brady on the sidelines. After all, he was just a fifth-round pick by the Patriots and was an average quarterback at the University of Michigan. No one picked Brady to be who many now consider the greatest quarterback of all-time.

What if Bledsoe had stayed healthy, led the Patriots to the Super Bowl and the postseason on a regular basis? Would New England eventually trade him away like they did with Brady’s apparent replacement Jimmy Garoppolo?

I think it is safe to imagine that Brady would not have won six Super Bowls with another franchise. I wonder if he would have even turned out to be as good a quarterback as he has become.

Brady is the perfect fit for the New England Patriots’ system. The chemistry that he and Pats head coach Bill Belichick have could not be duplicated anywhere else because you could be missing one of those two key components.

It is interesting to imagine how the NFL landscape would have changed.

New England has appeared in nine Super Bowls since 2001. There have been plenty of good football teams in the American Football Conference, but they have not been able to get past Brady, Belichick and the Patriots.

Teams like Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Denver and Oakland would have been serious Super Bowl contenders through all these years. Heck, Baltimore and Pittsburgh have won two titles over that stretch with Indianapolis and Denver also picking up Super Bowl victories.

One thing is for sure. As long as Belichick and Brady continue coaching and playing quarterback for the New England Patriots, I do not see an end to their reign.

I do not care how old Brady is. When you do not get hit, your body can stay strong. When you work as hard as he does to stay in shape, he can continue to play at a high level.

And as long as Belichick is putting together the game plan for New England, they are always going to be tough to beat.

The most interesting part of this that sometimes gets overlooked is the fact that the Patriots re-shape their team year in and year out. They sign very few players to long-term deals. They draft smartly and with the constant turnover, they are always replenishing the roster with players who are hungry to win championships.

Perhaps that is the real secret to success in New England.

You cannot become complacent when you are new to the “Patriot Way” and are eager to be successful.

Having Tom Brady and Bill Belichick certainly does not hurt.

Scott Novak is sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at scott.novak@leaderpub.com

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