When Tom Brady was a first-year starting quarterback for the New England Patriots in 2001, Romeo Crennel was the team’s defensive coordinator. 15 years later, as he prepares to lead the Texans defense into New England for Saturday’s AFC Divisional game, Crennel recalled when he realized the quarterback was going to be special.
“Our first Super Bowl up there in 2001, and no timeouts, we’re backed up,” Crennel recalled Thursday. “He drops back to pass, and didn’t realize it at the time, but if you go back and watch that tape, a defensive lineman rushing was millimeters away from hitting his arm, and if his arm is hit, he doesn’t complete the ball to the running back who runs out of bounds and then gets that drive going, so that we can go down and kick the field goal.”
The play Crennel is talking about is the Patriot’s game-winning drive from Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans. The St. Louis Rams had just scored to tie the game with 1:30 left, and without a timeout and with the ball at his own 17-yeard line, Brady drove them 53 yards setting up Adam Vinatieri’s walk-off 48-yard field goal. That five-yard completion to J.R. Redmond was the first of five completions on that drive for Brady, and it was the shortest, but according to Crennel, with Rams defensive lineman Leonard Little breathing down his neck, it was the most impressive.
“When you look at that play you said ‘Boom, that’s some composure, he knows what to do, he takes what the defense gives him’, and he was able to win a pretty big game for us.”
Of course, Brady wasn’t supposed to be New England’s quarterback that season, but took over late its second game when Jets linebacker Mo Lewis collapsed Drew Bledsoe’s lung on a hit down the sideline. The Patriots were 0-2 when Brady made his first start, which he won against Peyton Manning and the Colts.
“I liked him because he was able to win games for us,” Crennel said. “I saw him grow and develop as a quarterback, and he’s done very well since he took over.”
Despite the success Brady and the Patriots had during that 2001 season, there was always the possibility that he’d return to the bench.
“When (Bledsoe) was ready to comeback (they said) ‘all right, what are we gonna do?’, so there was some decision time there about that,” Crennel said. “(Bledsoe) didn’t like it, but we decided to stay with Tom, and Tom has proved his worth by continuing to win, having a tremendous career.”
Brady has won three more Super Bowls since starting that drive at the Super Dome, and a win over the Texans would put him two wins away from a fifth ring, which seems unlikley for a guy drafted in the sixth round with little fanfare playing behind a 3-time Pro Bowler.
“That’s the way it happens in this league sometimes, Crennel said. “Just one play can make a difference. With Drew, you know, boom, he gets hurt, and then Tom has an opportunity, he takes advantage of it, and really hasn’t looked back since.”