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Ellis reflects on Bledsoe hit

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Everyone remembers that it was New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis who delivered a franchise-altering hit to Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe 10 years ago Friday, but what's easy to forget is that Shaun Ellis was chasing Bledsoe.

After 11 seasons with the Jets, Ellis joined New England this season. On Friday, he reflected on a hit that forever changed the Patriots franchise -- and the NFL, too -- after Tom Brady ascended to quarterback during a 10-3 loss to New York on Sept. 23, 2001.

The Patriots have made four Super Bowl appearances since that fateful day, winning three times, and Brady, the reigning NFL MVP, has become maybe the league's elite player.

"I was chasing [Bledsoe]," explained Ellis. "We got to the sideline and I dove to try to knock the ball out. I guess he reached back to get the ball and that's when Mo Lewis hit him. I remember, you know if someone gets the wind knocked out of him, [but] I didn't know the extent of the injury. I didn't know until after the game."

With the Patriots trailing by a touchdown with little more than five minutes to play, Bledsoe found himself under pressure as the pocket collapsed. Ellis powered through guard Joe Andruzzi and began chasing Bledsoe up the home sideline. Lewis rushed over and, in front of the first-down marker, lowered his right shoulder, delivering the big hit.

The crunching blow sheared a blood vessel in Bledsoe's chest. Back in town last weekend to be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame, Bledsoe praised the team doctors who advised him to go to the hospital after the game, saying they might have saved his life.

Brady took the reins and helped guide the Patriots to their first Super Bowl title that season, winning the final nine games the team played.

"You don't know, you just go out there and try to play the game of football," Ellis said while reflecting on how much history was changed by the hit. "A lot of things like that have happened in the past, where guys go down and the next guy steps in. The next thing you know, he's a Hall of Famer. That's how it is."

Ellis admitted he knew nothing about Brady when the QB took over that day (Brady was 5-of-10 passing for 46 yards and couldn't complete the comeback, either). But he quipped Friday, "I've learned a lot about him since then."

What stands out most to Ellis now that he's one of Brady's teammates?

"Just his overall work ethic, his knowledge of the game," said Ellis. "Just how he takes great pride in his craft. It's amazing to watch."

Reminded of Friday's 10-year anniversary, Patriots coach Bill Belichick kept his focus on Sunday's game against the Bills.

"Obviously, I'm aware of it and all, but, no, I don't sit around and reflect on [it]," he said, before noting that it's the job of any backup quarterback to be ready for a similar situation.

"It's no different than any other backup quarterback going into that game," said Belichick. "[Brady] was the backup quarterback to start the season. He was the backup quarterback in that game. When you're the backup quarterback, you can go in after the first play like [Matt] Cassel did in '08 [when Brady tore his ACL]. You can go in on one of the last plays of the game like Tom did in '01, or somewhere in between. You never know as a backup quarterback.

"You have to be ready to go from the first play to the last one -- in all situations. All the things that a backup quarterback does to prepare for that -- that's what Tom did, that's what Matt did, that's what Doug Flutie did, that's what Vinny [Testaverde] did, that's what Brian Hoyer is doing right now."

Ellis said despite numerous AFC East matchups with Bledsoe, he never got to know him too well, though the two crossed paths last week when Bledsoe addressed the team at Saturday's walk-through. Ellis does keep in touch with Lewis and noted he was one of the veterans to take a young Ellis under his wings.

Still, it feels like a lifetime has passed since that game. And Ellis remarked about how improbable it is that he is now teammates with Brady in New England. Even after that play, Ellis had no idea how the entire landscape of the NFL had been altered.

In some weird way, Ellis might have had an impact on the Patriots' future success given his role in that play. Ten years later, he's here trying to maintain the winning tradition that has spawned from one fateful play.

Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots and Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.