FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said it was “pretty unlikely” that he would retire this offseason, before adding it was “hopefully unlikely” after the team’s 20-13 loss to the visiting Tennessee Titans on Saturday night in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs.
The future of the 42-year-old quarterback, and whether he will return to New England, was the hot-button topic after the Patriots had their earliest postseason exit since a 33-14 wild-card loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 10, 2010.
Since Brady is a free agent after the season for the first time in his career, and the Patriots cannot assign him the franchise tag, it sets up a scenario that has never been in play during Brady’s 20-year career: the possibility this was his final game with the franchise.
Asked after the game if he wanted to return, Brady said, “I love the Patriots. It’s the greatest organization. Playing for Mr. [Robert] Kraft all these years, and for Coach [Bill] Belichick, there’s nobody who’s had a better career, I would say, than me — just being with them. So I’m very blessed.
“I don’t know what the future looks like, so I’m not going to predict it.”
The Patriots became the third team to lose in the wild-card round after starting the season at least 8-0, joining the 2015 Cincinnati Bengals and 2013 Kansas City Chiefs.
The sixth-seeded Titans, led by running back Derrick Henry, who rushed for 182 yards on 34 carries with one touchdown, now visit the No. 1 Ravens in the AFC divisional round.
Meanwhile, the Patriots enter the offseason earlier than they are accustomed to and with the major question about Brady looming over them.
The crowd acknowledged Brady before the first snap Saturday with chants of “Brady! Brady! Brady!” and others brought signs to acknowledge him, with one reading, “Don’t leave Tommy.”
“I personally appreciate everything they’ve contributed — not just this year, but a lot of years,” Brady said of his message to the New England fans. “Just very grateful for the experience playing this year for the team, this organization, and over the course of my career, too. I appreciate it. I hope I’ve always tried to do the right thing out there. Who knows what the future holds? So I’ll leave it at that.”
Later, Brady added: “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m not going to predict it. No one needs to make choices at this point. I love playing football. I love playing for this team. I loved playing for this team for two decades and winning a lot of games. I don’t know what it looks like moving forward, so we’ll just take it day to day.”
The Patriots’ inability to gain a yard on back-to-back drives in the second quarter was a crucial part of Saturday’s game, with the Titans decisively slamming the door.
After stopping fullback Elandon Roberts on a third-and-1 dive near midfield five minutes into the quarter to force a punt, the Titans then stiffened on the Patriots’ ensuing drive after they had advanced to the 1-yard line.
The Patriots attempted three consecutive runs — with running back Sony Michel losing 1 yard on first down, running back Rex Burkhead held just short of the goal line on a 1-yard run on second down, and then Michel dropped for a 2-yard loss, as linebacker Rashaan Evans was in on all three tackles.
The Patriots settled for a 21-yard Nick Folk field goal to go up 13-7, and the Titans responded with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in 1 minute, 41 seconds in which Henry accounted for all 75 yards.
After taking a 14-13 lead into halftime, the Titans’ defense then held the Patriots scoreless in the second half. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, it was just the third time New England was held scoreless in a half in 41 playoff games (82 halves) since 2001.
“We just didn’t make enough plays. We had some opportunities and just weren’t able to score enough points. Thirteen wasn’t enough,” Belichick said.
The 182 rushing yards for the 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry was the most against a Belichick-coached Patriots team in a playoff game. With one catch for 22 yards, Henry had 204 total scrimmage yards, becoming the first player since Calvin Johnson in 2011 to have 200 scrimmage yards in a season finale and in his first playoff game the same season.
Also, with the Titans coached by former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, Belichick has now lost his most recent games against each of his former assistants and players who are active head coaches — Vrabel, Miami’s Brian Flores (2019, Week 17), Houston’s Bill O’Brien (2019, Week 13) and Detroit’s Matt Patricia (2018, Week 3).
Several New England players were asked about Brady’s future after the game.
“It has been the experience of a lifetime,” 12-year veteran Matthew Slater, a longtime Patriots captain, said of playing with him. “He does things the right way, has all the success in the world, but still remains himself. I think that says a lot about who he is as a man.”