FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The Jets have only themselves to blame. More specifically, Mo Lewis.
Had it not been for the former linebacker’s bone-rattling hit on Drew Bledsoe back in 2001, the Patriots never would have had to appoint a sixth-round draft pick as their starting quarterback. Which is how Tom Brady’s future Hall of Fame career and reign over the AFC East began.
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“Blame Shaun Ellis,” Calvin Pace joked Wednesday, mistakenly attributing Lewis’ hit to his former teammate Ellis, the defensive end who was chasing Bledsoe out of bounds right before Lewis delivered the big blow. “If Shaun didn’t get that hit on the sideline, they might have somebody else at quarterback. But things happen like that sometimes.”
Reminded that it was Lewis who delivered the hit on Bledsoe on Sept. 23, 2001 — a pounding so severe it caused internal bleeding — Pace corrected himself. “I’m sorry. Yeah, Mo Lewis,” he said. “So blame Mo Lewis.”
Coincidentally, Lewis, a three-time Pro Bowler who played his entire career with the Jets (1991-2003), will be their “Pilot of the Game” Sunday, when they host the Patriots (12-2) in a matchup with playoff implications for the Jets (9-5).
Lewis will serve as an honorary captain and be on hand for the coin toss. Although Brady typically doesn’t go out for the toss, he should be plenty happy to see Lewis. His hit on Bledsoe was a watershed moment for both franchises — one that uncovered a hidden gem on the Patriots’ sideline and ushered in a new age in New England’s dominance of the Jets. The braintrust of coach Bill Belichick and Brady is a big reason why.
“They’ve got their system and they just plug in the next guy and they keep rolling,” Jets defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said of the Pats’ ability to thrive despite injuries at key positions. “They’ve got a lot of people in and out, but they haven’t changed. They do what they do.’’
With Brady, the Patriots have been AFC champions six times and won four Super Bowls. Even at 38, he hasn’t lost a step. Jets coach Todd Bowles said he doesn’t see a difference in Brady from his rookie season to now.
“They both look the same,” Bowles said, smiling. “They both play the same. He was a great player when he came in. He worked his way into the starting role. He’s had a hell of a career — a storybook.”
Even so, the Jets are confident in their ability to get after Brady and defeat the Patriots in order to improve their wild-card hopes. Still, they know Brady may haunt them for years to come.
“Probably another 10 years, to be honest,” Pace, 35, said when asked how much longer he envisions Brady playing. “I don’t see that guy retiring anytime soon. And he shouldn’t. He’s done a great job for a long time.
“Hopefully, he gets traded at some point in time. Trade him to the NFC somewhere.”