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A field promotion, a fumble that never was and the late drive that made Tom Brady … Tom Brady

New England Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri celebrates his winning field goal in the final seconds of Super Bowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams on Feb. 3, 2002, in New Orleans.
New England Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri celebrates his winning field goal in the final seconds of Super Bowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams on Feb. 3, 2002, in New Orleans.

Seventeen years ago today, upstart quarterback Tom Brady led New England on a crucial late drive to set up a winning 48-yard field goal.

Today, the Patriots find themselves where their dynasty began: facing the Rams in the Super Bowl.

Drew Bledsoe’s scary injury changed the NFL’s course for years to come

Midway through the fourth quarter of the Patriots’ 2001-02 home opener against the division-rival New York Jets, former WSU Cougars star and entrenched New England starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe took a brutal hit along the sideline and sustained a concussion.

Unheralded backup Tom Brady replaced him and completed 5 of 10 passes but could not lead the team into the end zone for the tying score.

The Pats lost 10-3 and fell to 0-2 on the season. With Bledsoe sidelined, Brady took the reigns and led the Pats to an 11-3 record to close the regular season.

New England Patriots starting quarterback Tom Brady, right, and former starter Drew Bledsoe, line up during team practice in this Jan. 23, 2002 photo, at Foxboro Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. TThe Patriots take on the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2002 in New Orleans. (Michael Dwyer / Associated Press)
New England Patriots starting quarterback Tom Brady, right, and former starter Drew Bledsoe, line up during team practice in this Jan. 23, 2002 photo, at Foxboro Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. TThe Patriots take on the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2002 in New Orleans. (Michael Dwyer / Associated Press)

New England’s playoff run untracked after ‘tuck’

The second-seeded Patriots eeked out a controversial 16-13 overtime victory versus the Raiders in a snowy game in Foxboro, Mass. that became famous for highlighting the “Tuck Rule”.

Late in the game, Brady appeared to change his mind mid-throw, started to secure the ball and while his arm was still moving backward, was hit and appeared to fumble.

The Raiders recovered the ball and looked like they had sealed the win, but after a video review officials determined the ball was moving forward at the time of the hit and New England kept the ball and forced overtime.

Brady led the Patriots on a 15-play, 61-yard drive before Vinatieri kicked a 23-yard winning field goal.

Bledsoe’s AFC Championship rescue

After missing the rest of the regular season and the playoff opener after his Week 2 injury, it was Bledsoe’s turn to relieve an injured teammate after Brady (ankle) limped off in the second quarter of the AFC championship versus the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Bledsoe threw a touchdown pass just before halftime, and his steady play led the Pats to a 24-17 win and a Super Bowl berth.

New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe (11) passes during the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 27, 2002, in Pittsburgh. Bledsoe came into the game after an injury to starter Tom Brady. (Chris Gardner / Associated Press)
New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe (11) passes during the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 27, 2002, in Pittsburgh. Bledsoe came into the game after an injury to starter Tom Brady. (Chris Gardner / Associated Press)

Patriots stick to game plan

Starting Brady at QB: A healthy Brady started and won Super Bowl XXXVI, securing the first title for both players. Bledsoe was traded to the Buffalo Bills in the offseason.

Rams’ comeback falls just short

St. Louis scored first with a 50-yard field goal from kicker Jeff Wilkins before the Patriots scored 17 straight points (all off turnovers) and almost ran away with the game before halftime.

Kurt Warner and the Rams fought back to tie the score with 14 points in the last 10 minutes after Ricky Proehl caught a 26-yard TD pass with 1:30 remaining.

The Patriots then drove 53 yards in nine plays to get into position for the winning field goal as time expired.

Walkthrough watchers?

The Boston Herald apologized to the New England Patriots on the front page of their Wednesday May 14, 2008 newspaper for falsely reporting that the Patriots videotaped a St Louis Rams walkthrough the day before their 2002 Super Bowl XXXVI contest .  (Stephan Savoia / Associated Press)
The Boston Herald apologized to the New England Patriots on the front page of their Wednesday May 14, 2008 newspaper for falsely reporting that the Patriots videotaped a St Louis Rams walkthrough the day before their 2002 Super Bowl XXXVI contest . (Stephan Savoia / Associated Press)

Many players from the 2001 Rams team have stood behind claims made by a 2008 Boston Herald story which came out days before Super Bowl XLII that brought forward the “Spygate” scandal, alleging Patriots staffers recorded New York Jets coaches’ defensive signals and later broadened to include the Rams-Patriots Super Bowl.

Despite a May 2008 retraction by the Herald and no hard evidence, the legend seems to live on today.

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