Patriots ‘don’t know’ what happened or what will happen

Andy Hart
January 05, 2020 - 2:00 am

“I don’t know.”

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That was the most common response in the Patriots locker room following Saturday night’s shocking season-ending loss to the Titans in the AFC Wild Card game. While it’s an unfulfilling answer for inquisitive reporters and fans alike, it’s the sudden reality of life in New England: unknown.

The only certainty was that thanks to Tennessee’s 20-13 victory -- one in which Derrick Henry ran through the Patriots vaunted defense to the tune of nearly 200 yards and Tom Brady’s final throw was a pick-6 for former teammate Logan Ryan – the tumultuous season for the defending Super Bowl Champions has come to an unceremonious and expedited end.

There will not be a ninth straight trip to the AFC title game.

There will not be a fourth straight trip to the Super Bowl.

There will be no need to fire up the Duck Boats this winter.

Those facts are simple and obvious, even if they are tough to digest thanks to the dynastic success Bill Belichick’s team has previously enjoyed.

It’s been a decade since the Patriots were eliminated this early in the postseason and, honestly, no one really seemed to know how to react.

“It’s not a good feeling. We all wanted more out of this season,” James White admitted. “I mean, honestly, I can’t even describe it. It doesn’t really feel like it’s really over. I don’t even know the words for it honestly.”

In many ways the latest loss – coming on the heels of the even more stunning defeat at the hands of the Dolphins in the regular season finale that forced the Patriots into unexpected Wild Card action – was similar to struggles that popped up throughout the year. Brady and the passing game never found any consistent efficiency, struggled on third downs and, were held to field goals on two of three trips into the red zone against the Titans. The defense’s biggest weakness came on the ground, though the ineptitude against Henry was far worse than prior suspect performances.

“I think anytime you lose games and don’t produce the way you want, there’s probably a lot of things we all wish we could do a lot better. I certainly wish that I could do some things better, but we didn’t. It’s a results business, and it’s about winning and losing and the more things you do right and well, the better chance you have to win. We just didn’t do enough things right,” Brady said.

A year ago about this time the Patriots shook off regular season rust and warts, flicked a switch and went on a run to a record-tying sixth Lombardi Trophy. Many in Patriot Nation hoped and even predicted a similar storyline this time around.

But, alas, it was not to be. These Patriots, as hard as they fought to the finish, simply didn’t have the talent, production and mettle to defend their title and attempt to continue to rewrite the record books.

It wasn’t an issue with effort. It was an issue with execution and results.

“I have a ton of respect for this football team, these guys competed all year, everybody, all three units. We played hard and just came up a little bit short tonight,” Belichick emphasized.

But the finality of the loss reverberates well past just this game, this playoff run or this season.

There are so many questions surrounding the Patriots moving forward. The loss to Mike Vrabel’s Titans jumpstarts what may very well be the most tumultuous, critical offseason in Patriots franchise history.

The questions are no longer coming, they are here.

Has Brady played his last game in a Patriots uniform?

Is the Belichick/Brady dynasty therefore for over?

“Who knows what the future holds, so we’ll leave it at that,” Brady responded when asked if he had a message for fans.

TB12 said it was “pretty unlikely” and “hopefully unlikely” that he would be retiring, though he did his best to deflect other questions about his future as he heads towards potential free agency after 20 seasons in New England.

“I don’t want to get too much into the future and stuff,” Brady said. “I just don’t know what’s going to happen and 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’ve loved playing for this team for two decades and winning a lot of games. And again, I don’t know what it looks like moving forward, so we’ll just take it day-by-day.”

Brady is just the biggest question, but there are endless others?

And answering questions after an ugly loss to close out an incredibly disappointing season is a bit different than doing so after a trip to the Super Bowl or even the conference title game. It is what it is.

Will offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels move on to a head coaching job elsewhere, the potential that his final game in New England was a disappointing 13-point performance?

Could veteran offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia retire once again?

How many veteran free agents – key cogs like left guard Joe Thuney and linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, among others – will move on to greener, more lucrative pastures this offseason?

Could mainstay leaders like Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung or Matthew Slater consider retirement?

What went wrong for the Patriots in 2019?

What does the future in hold in New England?

“I don’t know.”

Related: Patriots vs. Titans thumbs up, thumbs down: Tom Brady, defense fail as Titans run to victory