BOSTON (CBS) — In just 10 short days, Tom Brady will make his return to New England as the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Chances are he’ll receive the warmest welcome any departed Boston athlete has received in their return, considering the absolutely absurd 20-year run he had with the Patriots responsible for those six Super Bowl banners that now hang in Gillette Stadium.

That run, technically, started when the Patriots drafted Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft. But no one knew the incredible heights that Brady and the Patriots would reach in the near future at that time, as Brady was buried on the New England depth chart. He spent his rookie season as the team’s fourth quarterback, making just one brief appearance that season.

Brady did not see his first real action for the Patriots until Week 2 of the 2001 season — 20 years ago today — when he replaced a very injured Drew Bledsoe late in the fourth quarter of a 10-3 loss to New York. The rest, as they say, is history.

Bledsoe miraculously played a series that Sunday afternoon after Mo Lewis leveled him on the sideline, a massive hit that gave New England’s big-money quarterback a concussion, a collapsed lung and internal bleeding. Bledsoe nearly died from the violent collision.

It obviously sidelined Bledsoe for a while, and paved the way for Brady to take over. And take over he did, leading the Patriots to an 11-3 record as the team’s starter and an improbable Super Bowl run with an even more improbable title-clinching win over the St. Louis Rams.

But all of that, and the other five Lombari Trophies he won as a Patriot, were a long time coming when Brady took the field back on Sept. 23, 2001.

The fresh-faced, slightly pudgy (compared to today’s Tom Brady) quarterback took the field at Foxboro Stadium with 2:16 left and the Patriots trailing 10-3. He completed his first pass, a four-yard hookup with Patrick Pass. Then he completed another for nine yards to Troy Brown. After an incompletion to Brown, the two hooked up again for another nine-yard connection, and Brown moved the chains when Brady hit him for another three yards on a third-and-1 to bring the Pats into New York territory. That was the start of a beautiful relationship between Brady and Brown.

It kinda felt like Brady was about to lead the team on a game-tying drive. It could have been the first of many comebacks that the quarterback would lead the team on over the next two decades. But it was not meant to be that Sunday, as a holding penalty on Joe Andruzzi wiped out a nine-yard reception by tight end Jermaine Wiggins and pushed the Patriots back 10 yards.

Brady ran for nine yards on the ensuing first-and-20 and then picked up 21 yards on a nice connection with David Patten, putting the Patriots on the New York 29-yard line. But there was no comeback magic as Brady’s next four passes fell incomplete, and the Patriots walked off the field with a 10-3 loss and an 0-2 record.

New England was not in a great spot after that defeat, but little did anyone know that it was the start of something special. Just when things were looking worse and worse for the Patriots, Tom Brady came and saved the day.

The former Michigan man had impressed during training camp and the preseason, prompting Bill Belichick to elevate Brady on the depth chart over veteran Damon Huard, slotting the 24-year-old in as Bledsoe’s backup.

After that Week 2 loss to the Jets, Belichick expressed confidence that Brady could lead the way until Bledsoe returned.

“I really don’t think that I am going to be standing here week after week talking about all of the problems that Tom Brady had. I have confidence in him, I think the team has confidence in him and I think that he will prepare himself well and he will go out there and perform at a good level,” Belichick said, via NBC Sports Boston’s Tom E. Curran. “I am sure that like every other young player there will always be something in the game that you would like to do differently. People say that about every player young or old. It is always going to be that way. Everybody will make a mistake in the game, but I think overall that he will perform within the framework of the offense that we have designed for him and he will make plays that he is capable of making. That is what my expectations are and I think Tom will work hard to respond to that opportunity.

“Nobody ever likes to see a teammate go down especially a warrior like Drew, just to go back in the game in that situation and the condition that he did shows the kind of toughness and grit that he has and what he is respected for, but at the same time every player likes to play, every player wants to take advantage, of an opportunity and I know that Tom has prepared hard and that is what a backup quarterback’s job is,” Belichick continued. “To be ready when the opportunity arises. It was a tough situation that he was thrust into last night, but overall I thought he responded to it pretty well. I just wish we could have made one more play.”

Brady got his first start the following week against Indianapolis, as the Patriots pummeled the Indianapolis Colts 44-13 in Foxboro. It was Brady’s first win as a starter, though he threw for only 168 yards and no touchdowns in the victory. (The New England defense had a pair of pick-sixes and three interceptions overall on Peyton Manning that afternoon.) He wouldn’t throw his first touchdown pass until Week 5.

But by the time Bledsoe was ready to return, Brady had won the starting gig. As the season went on and the Patriots continued to win games — mostly thanks to the defense, but also thanks to some extremely calm and cool play from Brady late in games — you couldn’t help but feel that something special was building in Foxboro.

That all began on Sept. 23, 2001, when Tom Brady took over at quarterback, the start of an incredibly remarkable run that will never be repeated in the NFL.

CBSBoston.com Staff