For the first time in two decades, the New England Patriots looked like an ordinary NFL team with an ordinary quarterback.
Sport’s greatest dynasty was shattered as the Patriots were defeated 20-13 by the Tennessee Titans in the AFC wild card round.
The Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era has yielded unparalleled success: trips to nine Super Bowls, victories in six — three in the past six years.
In a league of parity and the salary cap, the Patriots have defied the odds time and again.
Brady, 42, wants to play until he is 45. For the first time in his 20-year career he will be a free agent in March. There will be no shortage of offers.
Brady, who has put the Massachusetts home he shares with supermodel wife Gisele Bundchen up for sale, chose his words carefully after the game.
‘I would say it’s pretty unlikely,’ he said of the possibility of retiring. ‘Who knows what the future holds, we’ll leave it at that.’
Asked about the chance of bringing Brady back, a typically terse coach Belichick grunted: ‘We just finished the game. We’re focused on this game, OK.’
The Patriots began the season 8-0 but lost three of their last five to finish 12-4. In their last regular season game, the Miami Dolphins won at Gillette Stadium to cost the Pats homefield advantage and a first-round bye, something they had enjoyed every season since 2009. At a foggy Foxboro they faced a formidable opponent, led by one of their own. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, a three-time Super Bowl winner with the Patriots, rode the NFL’s leading rusher Derrick Henry, who blasted 182 yards and a touchdown. The Titans head to No?1 seed Baltimore Ravens on Sunday morning.
Brady was inconsistent. His final pass was intercepted by former team-mate Logan Ryan, who ran for a game-clinching touchdown.
Robert Kraft, a Patriots season-ticket holder since 1971, bought the ailing franchise for £172million in 1994. It is now valued at $4.1billion. He appointed Belichick in 1999. Brady followed the next year, taken in the sixth round, the 199th player overall from the 2000 draft. He became starter in week three of the 2001 season, steering the Patriots to their first Super Bowl. They haven’t looked back since. Now they may have to look elsewhere.
The Houston Texans beat the Buffalo Bills 22-19. They face the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.