The 2001 New England Patriots: Looking Back
During the first half of Super Bowl XXXVI, Ty Law streaked down the sideline, one hand cradling the football and one hand raised triumphantly in the air.
He had just intercepted a pass by St. Louis Rams QB Kurt Warner and was taking it into the end zone for a Patriot touchdown.
I picked up the phone and called my Dad, a season ticket holder since 1983 basically to give a long distance high five.
I was at my grandmothers house in East Providence, Rhode Island, but my Dad was in a hospital in New Hampshire recovering from a freak skiing accident in which he broke ribs and punctured a lung.
This moment has replayed in my mind a million times since that day, the game that changed it all. The perfect ending to a storybook season. The kind of things that legends are made of.
The 2001 season as we remember it really began in week two, against the division rival New York Jets on September 23.
This was a rough period for many Americans, as two weeks prior, America was the victim of the World Trade Center attacks.
Patriots Guard Joe Andruzzi had two brothers who were New York City firemen and were on the scene as the towers fell. Emotions ran high when Andruzzi made his way onto the field with two American flags, one in each hand, recognizing his brothers and their fallen comrades.
This was the game that launched the Patriots dynasty, as franchise Quarterback and face of the team Drew Bledsoe changed Patriots history forever. He rolled out to his right and lumbered his massive frame to the sideline when BAM!
Out of nowhere came Jets Linebacker Mo Lewis, who delivered a vicious hit on Bledsoe. A hit that would leave him with internal injuries and questions about his future.
The Patriots lost that day 10-3, falling to 0-2 for the season in the process.
The 2001 season looked to be over before it got started.
The Patriots turned to sixth round pick Tom Brady to lead the team for the foreseeable future.
The "Patsies" were 1-3 and things didn't look good.
Brady navigated the Patriots through the schedule, managing games and not making mistakes.
By mid November, the Patriots were 5-4, and their season was still intact heading into a showdown with the defending Super Bowl Champions, the St. Louis Rams.
The Rams defeated the Patriots in Foxboro that night 24-17, but it was clear that the Pats had earned the respect of not only the Rams, but the rest of the league as well.
The Patriots did not lose again for the rest of the season, pulling out gritty wins on the road over the Jets (17-16, Dec. 2) and the Bills (12-9, Dec. 16).
Finishing 11-5, the Patriots earned a trip to the playoffs where they would square off with the Oakland Raiders in the last game ever at Foxboro Stadium.
Led by Rich Gannon and Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, the Raiders marched into snowy Foxboro hell bent on victory. During the first half, the Raiders played well and took a 7-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Oakland dug deep and battled the elements, taking a 13-3 lead in the third quarter, before Brady's touchdown scamper made it 13-10.
With less than two minutes to play, the Patriots were moving the ball down the field when Tom Brady was sacked by Raiders CB Charles Woodson, jarring the ball loose. The Raiders recovered and the dream season turned into a nightmare.
However, thanks to the "Tuck Rule" the play was ruled an incomplete pass and the Patriots maintained possession.
After moving the ball to the Raider 29 yard line, Adam Vinatieri made himself a legend. He drilled the frozen football 45 yards through driving snow and blistering wind to tie the game at 13, sending it into overtime.
The Patriots won the toss and again drove 61 yards in 15 plays, with Brady going 8-8 for 45 yards.
Adam Vinatieri came back out and drilled a 23 yard field goal in overtime, giving the Patriots the victory in the last game ever at Foxboro.
This sent the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh, PA.
They were pitted against the overconfident Steelers, who had booked their flights for the Super Bowl prior to the game.
Patriot legend Troy Brown started the scoring with a 55 yard punt return for a touchdown, putting the Patriots up early 7-0.
But the real drama came in the second quarter.
Brady was having a good game, going 12-18 for 115 yards when he suffered a knee injury on a hit by Safety Lee Flowers.
Entering the game was Drew Bledsoe, who had not played since suffering that brutal injury in week two. However, he drove the team down the field and even gave the fans some concern, scrambling for four yards in a play that looked eerily similar to the Mo Lewis play.
Bledsoe connected with David Patten on an 11 yard touchdown pass with 58 seconds left in the half, giving the Patriots a 14-3 lead going into halftime.
The Patriots had another big special teams play, as a blocked FG attempt was returned for a touchdown by Antwan Harris, who caught a lateral from Troy Brown and took the ball 49 yards for the score.
The Patriots won the game 24-17 and advanced to the Super Bowl for the third time in team history.
The Rams were a tough match up for the Patriots, as their explosive offense made it hard for teams to stop them. Thankfully, the Patriots had already played them earlier in the season and had an idea of what they had to do.
The Patriots entered the game as a team, and they left as the best team, physically dominating the Rams wide receivers and making big plays at key moments, like the Ty Law interception and Antwan Harris' forced fumble.
The Patriots sputtered in the second half and watched their lead disappear. It was now 17-17 with 1:30 left in the game.
Tom Brady had been waiting his entire life for this moment.
While some analysts thought that the Patriots should simply kill the clock and win it in overtime, the Patriots thought differently—even with no timeouts remaining.
Brady made three key throws to RB J.R. Redmond, a 23 yard pass to Troy Brown, and six yard pass to TE Jermaine Wiggins.
Spiking the ball with seven seconds left, the season would once again ride on the leg of Adam Vinatieri.
Adam blasted a 48 yard field goal, giving the Patriots their first Super Bowl title in franchise history on the final play of the game.
I called my Dad again, going insane on the phone.
I could not believe what I had just seen.
This one season single-handedly changed the culture of not only New England football, but New England sports in general. Redefining excellence was what this team was all about.
Without the 2001 Patriots, who knows if there would be two more Lombardi Trophies this decade.
The 2001 Patriots were the ultimate team. One that will never be forgotten in the annals of Boston sports.
Owner Robert Kraft said it best that day, "Today, we are all Patriots."
We still are, Bob.
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