What Could Have Been: The Patriots and the Bills
With 1:50 left in a snowy game in Foxboro on January 19th 2002, one franchise was changed forever.
Everyone knows that the New England Patriots benefited greatly from the “Tuck Rule,” but is there a team besides the Oakland Raiders that missed a great opportunity?
At the time, Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady dropped back to pass and was hit from behind by Woodson. Greg Biekert then fell on the ball just before Jermaine Wiggins could get there.
The unbelievable run that the Patriots were on at the time was finally over. Luckily for the Patriots, however, something changed for the better.
The call on the field was reversed. Believe it or not, this changed the fortunes of not only the Patriots and the Raiders, but also of the AFC East division rival Buffalo Bills.
At 3-0 and 1-2 respectively, the Patriots are still the class of the division while the Bills are still trying to figure things out. Before we talk about what would have happened if the reverse call did not happen, let’s look at two possible scenarios as to why it would not have happened.
First, there is the obvious one that official Walt Coleman could have decided that it was a fumble, in which case the Tuck Rule would not have been enforced. This seems unlikely because he (Coleman) has come out and said that it was an “obvious” call.
What if this play happened before the two minute warning? The Patriots were out of timeouts and would not have been able to challenge the play, and since it was called a fumble on the field, the Raiders would have been able to kill the rest of the clock, and send the Patriots packing.
So what if any of these two things happened on the night of January 19th? Clearly the Patriots would not have won their first Super Bowl against the Rams, but would there have been bigger consequences?
The quarterback controversy had been brewing since Drew Bledsoe had come back to the team from the vicious hit that Mo Lewis inflicted in Week 2. It might be hard to believe now, but people were split on who should start the Super Bowl after Brady went down in the AFC Championship and Bledsoe led them to a victory.
So what if Bill had chosen wrong? What if he decided that he was going to go with the proven veteran over the young kid? What if the Patriots traded Brady to the Buffalo Bills instead of Bledsoe?
I think that we can agree that both franchises would be very different now. Would Brady have led the Bills to the playoffs, something that Bledsoe, or any other quarterback has not been able to do since? Would Bledsoe have been able to lead the Patriots to wins in Super Bowls 38 and 39? Would the Patriots have won a Super Bowl at all?
When E.J. Manuel made his first NFL start in Week 1 against the Patriots, it was the seventh starting quarterback for the Bills since 2002. The team has drafted three quarterbacks in the first three rounds and the other two, J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards, did not pan out.
When looking at the Patriots, the team has actually drafted more quarterbacks (six) then the Bills, who have drafted four, since 2002. And before you think they did not spend any high picks on them, they used a fourth in ‘02, a third in ’08, and a third in ’11. Their most productive was Matt Cassel, taken in the seventh round, and he is no Tom Brady.
There is no telling what would have happened if Brady was in that deal instead of Bledsoe. Maybe he would have never succeeded under Gregg Williams. Maybe Bledsoe would have been great, and Belichick would have molded him to his system, and then found a competent replacement for him when he retired.
It is quite possible that the fortunes of these two franchises would be flipped, with the Bills being perennial winners of the AFC East, and the Patriots going through four coaches and never having more than eight wins.
Surely, Patriots fans must be happy that they never had to find out.