After watching Tom Brady hobble off the field halfway through the first quarter after being struck by a shot to the lower leg from Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard, it wasn't more than one play from scrimmage to realize where the Patriots were heading: back to the year 2001.
It was in 2001 when in the second week of play, then-starting quarterback for the Patriots, Drew Bledsoe, rolled out to his right late in a matchup with the New York Jets. As he was conceding his forward progress and heading for the out of bounds line, Jets linebacker, Mo Lewis, dropped his shoulder and laid the lumber on Bledsoe.
Bledsoe lay writing in pain with some internal bleeding. Into the game, an unknown second-year player from Michigan, Tom Brady.
What proceeded was a remarkable run. Accumulating a 14-3 record as a starter and winning his last nine games of the season, including the playoffs, Brady led the underdog Patriots to a Super Bowl XXXVI victory over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams and their "greatest show on turf" squad.
The results showed. The offense, however, was mediocre, at best. Brady, yet to develop into the slinger he is known for today (50 TD passes in 2007), would throw consistently between 0-15 yards. He lulled defenses to sleep with his methodical drives. He lulled fans to sleep with his boring, predictable offense. What was the gameplan? Field position.
Now, in 2008, with Brady the one out of the game, an unknown from USC, Matt Cassell will step into the spotlight. The gameplan? Field position. Look for the Patriots to run a similar type offense to that of the Brady-led 2001 team that galloped into the hearts of America in lieu of 9/11 with the Patriots being America's team.
This time around, success may not be so shocking. 2001 saw a contingent of receivers named Troy Brown, David Patten, Jermaine Wiggins, Fred Coleman and Charles Johnson. Running backs on the roster: Antwain Smith, J.R. Redmond, Kevin Faulk and Marc Edwards. 2008 is loaded with weapons for Cassell to succeed. Wide receivers like Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Benjamin Watson will keep defenses from loading the box. Running backs like Lawrence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and LaMont Jordan will keep the secondary from doubling the receivers.
So, even with the loss of a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback, the team should get by. Expect the team to win the AFC East, just not with an undefeated record. And maybe even a trip to Super Bowl XLIII to avenge their demoralizing loss to the Giants from last seasons Super Bowl.