FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Dynasty over?
Sure feels that way.
The Patriots, who limped to the finish line with a 4-4 record in their last eight regular-season games, including a devastating home loss to the Dolphins last Sunday that ruined their chances at a bye week, were booted out of the playoffs on Saturday night by the Titans, who eked out a 20-13 win in an AFC wild-card game.
All-Pro running back Derrick Henry rushed for 182 yards and the go-ahead touchdown for the Titans, who will face the top-seeded Ravens next Saturday night in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. The Texans, who beat the Bills in overtime in Saturday’s other AFC wild-card game, will visit the Chiefs next Sunday in Kansas City.
Was this the last we’ve seen of Tom Brady in a Patriots uniform? And the last we’ve seen of the Patriots as Super Bowl contenders?
The 42-year-old quarterback was vague about his future but didn’t rule out returning for a 21st season with the Patriots in 2020.
“I love the Patriots,” Brady said after going 20-for-37 for 209 yards, no touchdowns and one interception, a pick-6 in the final seconds. “They’ve obviously got the greatest organization, and playing for Mr. [Robert] Kraft all these years and for Coach [Bill] Belichick all these years, there’s nobody who’s had a better career than me just being with them.”
Brady said he doesn’t “know what the future looks like, and I’m not going to predict it. I wish we won tonight, [but] we didn’t get the job done.”
Asked if he might retire, he replied, “I would say it’s pretty unlikely . . . hopefully unlikely.”
The Patriots had won two of the previous three championships and six titles overall under Brady and Belichick, with the first coming after the 2001 season.
A sixth-round pick of the Patriots in 2000, Brady has said he’d like to play into his mid-40s. But a late-season slump, which included interceptions returned for touchdowns in back-to-back games for the first time in his career, has raised speculation that Brady’s playing days might be over sooner rather than later.
And with the Patriots showing their age at several positions — not to mention the potential departure of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who is being considered for head-coaching positions, and director of player personnel Nick Caserio, whose contract will expire in the offseason — this finally might be a team in transition.
“I think we’re all running out of time and chances, every year that goes by,” Brady said. “I don’t think I’m the only one in this category in this [interview] room.”
Brady simply didn’t have it when the Patriots needed it against the Titans. In addition to Henry’s domination, quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for a touchdown and the Titans got their final score on Logan Ryan’s 9-yard pick-6 of Brady in the final seconds.
“It happens when you throw the ball,” Brady said of his pass from the Patriots’ 1-yard line. “I wish it had been a 99-yard touchdown, but it wasn’t.”
Brady said poor third-down execution and inadequate play in the red zone were at the root of the Patriots’ offensive issues. On one particular drive in the second quarter, the Patriots got to the Titans’ 1-yard line on a 12-yard screen pass to Rex Burkhead but couldn’t punch it into the end zone.
McDaniels called three straight runs to the left, and the Titans stopped them all. Former Jet Nick Folk then kicked a 21-yard field goal to make it 13-7.
The Titans responded with a 75-yard drive to make it 14-13 with 35 seconds left in the half. It was a heavy dose of Henry, who led the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards during the regular season.
Henry started the drive with a 29-yard run off right tackle, and an 11-yard run off left guard got the Titans to the New England 35. Henry ran twice more for a combined 12 yards before catching a short pass from Tannehill for a 22-yard gain to the 1. Henry then bulled in to give Tennessee the lead.
“They made some key plays in critical situations, in the red area and on third down,” Belichick said of the Titans. “All of those plays were probably the difference in the game.”
Belichick didn’t want to speculate about Brady’s intentions in 2020 or the Patriots’ future. “We were focused on this game,” he said.
Said Patriots safety Devin McCourty, “It’s hard to imagine Tom not playing football. And it’s hard not to see him playing here.”
Stay tuned for what could be the Patriots’ most consequential offseason in years.