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Classic Rewind: Tom Brady’s First Comeback Sinks the Chargers

Posted on October 20, 2010 by A.J. Foss

Most football fans know how Tom Brady became the starting quarterback of the New England Patriots, but when do they and the Patriots know that he would become a successful NFL quarterback?

Perhaps that moment occurred in the Patriots week 5 game against the San Diego Chargers where Brady lead the Patriots back from a ten-point deficit in the fourth quarter to come away with an overtime victory.

Brady was forced into the role of starting quarterback when longtime starter Drew Bledsoe was injured in the Patriots’ second game of the season, a 10-3 loss to the New York Jets.

Brady’s first start was a successful one as he led the Patriots to a 44-13 rout of the Indianapolis Colts in week 3, but was unsuccessful the following week as the Patriots were defeated by the Miami Dolphins 30-10 as Brady threw for only 86 yards.

With zero touchdown passes in his two starts, some observers felt that Brady was a liability and that the Patriots would go nowhere in the second season under head coach Bill Belichick.

The Patriots opponent in Week 5 was the San Diego Chargers, one of the early surprises in the 2001 season.

In 2000, the Chargers finished with a 1-15 record, the worst in the league.

After the season, Chargers owner Dean Spanos hired former Bills general manager John Butler to the same position, who brought several players from the Bills roster to San Diego, including quarterback Doug Flutie.

The Chargers held the first pick in the NFL Draft, but they traded it away to the Atlanta Falcons for the #5 pick in the first round and the first pick in the second round, which the Chargers used to pick running back LaDainian Tomlinson and quarterback Drew Brees.

The new-look Chargers won their first three games before losing to the Cleveland Browns 20-16 the week before they traveled to Foxboro to face the Patriots.

Both teams scored field goals in the first quarter as the Patriots drove 60 yards in 13 plays on their opening drive, leading to a 26-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri, while the Chargers got a 21-yard field goal by Wade Richey on the final play of the quarter.

The score remained 3-3 until 3:55 left in the second quarter when Brady threw his first career NFL touchdown pass, a 21-yarder to Terry Glenn.

In just his third career start, Tom Brady passed for 364 yards and two touchdowns.

Glenn, who had been suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, caught six passes for 97 yards in the first half, including the 21-yard touchdown.

However, Vinatieri’s extra point was blocked by Ed Ellis, so the score remained 9-3 until Richey hit a 27-yard field goal with 29 seconds to go in the first half, which brought the Chargers to within three points, 9-6 at halftime.

Both teams punted on their opening possessions of the second half but on the Chargers’ second possession, Flutie hit Curtis Conway for two big completions, first a 56-yard gain that put San Diego at the Patriots’ 20-yard-line, then a 19-yard completion to the one-yard-line, setting up a Tomlinson 1-yard touchdown run that gave the Chargers their first lead of the game at 13-9.

After the Tomlinson touchdown, the Patriots responded with 10-play, 71-yard drive, culminating with a 1-yard touchdown run by Antowain Smith, that put New England back up 16-13 with 4:20 left in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Chargers kick returner Tim Dwight, who came in the trade to the Falcons, returned a Patriots punt 26 yards to the New England 34-yard-line, leading to eight-play drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Flutie to tight end Steve Heiden that put the Chargers back in the lead 19-16.

San Diego went for two after the touchdown, but it failed to convert so the score remained 19-16 with 10:00 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Patriots could not get a first down on their next drive and were setting up a punt on fourth down, but punter Norm Johnson dropped the snap, leading to a fumble that was recovered by Derrick Harris for a 6-yard touchdown that increased the Chargers’ lead to 26-16 with 8:48 left in regulation.

Doug Flutie led the Chargers to a 26-16 fourth quarter lead.

The botched punt that lead to a Charger touchdown appeared to be the Patriots’ undoing, but that is where Brady rose up and began the first of his many comebacks in his legendary career.

With the score 26-16, Brady lead the Patriots on a 15-play, 69-yard drive but had to settle for a field goal, which was made from 23 yards out by Vinatieri, that trimmed the Chargers’ lead to 26-19 with 3:31 to go.

Needing a defensive stop, Patriots linebacker Brian Cox came up with a huge play as he tackled Tomlinson for no gain on 3rd & 1, forcing the Chargers to punt the ball back to the Patriots.

Troy Brown returned the punt 40 yards to midfield but a holding penalty on the Patriots moved the ball back to their own 40 with 2:10 to go.

With the game in his hands, Brady came up big as he completed three passes to Brown for 31 yards, then found David Patten for a 26-yard gain that gave New England a first-and-goal on the three-yard-line.

On first-and-goal, Brady faked a handoff and found tight end Jermaine Wiggins in the end zone for the touchdown.  After Vinatieri’s extra point, the game was tied 26-26 with 36 seconds to play in regulation.

San Diego made one last attempt to win the game before time expired as Flutie drove the Chargers into Patriots territory, but Richey’s 59-yard field goal attempt was no good and the game went into overtime.

The Chargers won the overtime coin toss and went on offense, but the Patriots defense forced a three-and-out to get the ball at their own 23-yard-line with a chance to win the game.

On the very first play, Brady went deep as he threw a long pass for Patten, who drew a pass interference penalty on cornerback Alex Molden, a 37-yard penalty that put the Patriots in Chargers territory.

Then on 3rd & 5, Brady hit running back Kevin Faulk for a nine-yard gain to the Chargers’ 26-yard-line and a first down.

Months before becoming a Super Bowl hero, Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winning field goal against the Chargers.

Two plays later, Vinatieri came on to try the game-winning field goal from 44 yards out.

In a sign of things to come, Vinatieri drilled the kick right down the middle and the Patriots came away with a 29-26 win.

The Chargers would win their next two games, before dropping the final nine games of the season to finish the season with a 5-11 record.

After the season, head coach Mike Riley was fired and replaced by Marty Schottenheimer who named Drew Brees as starting quarterback in 2002.

As for Brady and the Patriots, the rest would be history.

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