Wild card weekend is over and, if the rumours are true, so is the GOAT’s time in New England. In what may have been quarterback Tom Brady’s last game at Foxborough Stadium, the player who led the team to six Super Bowl wins was hoping for a fond farewell but, instead his team fell at the first hurdle, losing 20-13 to the Tennessee Titans.
Despite reaching the play-offs yet again, the Patriots’ slip-up against Miami in the last week of the regular season confirmed what everybody already knew. The Patriots’ offense was struggling.
The team were superb on defense all season but, despite his status as the greatest of all time, Brady’s productivity was down. New England’s passing game was fragile and, while the team’s chances of winning the Super Bowl were slim, nobody expected a home loss to Tennessee in the wild card round.
The Titans had a good idea of how to go about beating New England. Head coach Mike Vrabel, after all, is a former Patriot. But few would have predicted that a team quarterbacked by Ryan Tannehill would come out on top. Tannehill’s record entering the game was six straight losses at Gillette Stadium.
The Titans won the game the hard way. They ran the ball straight at the Patriots defense – over and over again with running back Derek Henry amassing 182 yards on 34 carries.
No drive in the game summed that up better than the last Titans drive of the first half. Typically, with two minutes to play, teams throw the ball, gaining larger chunks of yards and stopping the clock if the ball falls incomplete.
Not the Titans. They handed the ball to Henry on all seven plays, and he ended the drive with a one-yard touchdown to take a 14-13 lead into the break.
The second half became a defensive study as each team kept the other’s offense at arm’s length.
With four minutes left, Brady got the ball but, even when he found his most reliable receiver, Julian Edelman, the pass was dropped.
Despite the Patriots then having to punt the ball away, they still got one final chance with 25 seconds to go.
With all eyes on him, Brady stepped up and unleashed the ball but his potentially final pass as a Patriot was intercepted and returned for a touchdown and the Titans moved on to the Divisional round.
Now, for the first time in his 19-year career, Brady doesn’t know where or even if he will be playing next season.
During post-match media activities, Brady and the players in the locker room talked about the quarterback’s presence in the past tense. A man with six Super Bowl rings – who will never have to pay for a beer in Boston again – is about to enter the great unknown.
At 42 years old, the question is: will he find a new home at all?
On Saturday the Buffalo Bills jumped out to a 16-0 lead against the Texans in Houston but still managed to deny their fans a first play-off win this century as they lost 22-19 in overtime. Talismanic defensive lineman JJ Watt returned early from pectoral surgery and, after a quiet first half, sparked the turnaround with a crucial sack in the third quarter to keep the Bills to a field goal. The Texans then scored 19 unanswered points but left the Bills enough time for a field goal to force overtime. Another field goal by the home team clinched the win.
The Minnesota Vikings upset the much favoured New Orleans Saints thanks to a brilliant performance from Kirk Cousins culminating in an overtime touchdown. The bright spot for the Saints was the performance of utility man Taysom Hill, who threw a pass for 50 yards, caught a touchdown pass and ran for 50 yards.
In the final game of the weekend, The Philadelphia Eagles hosted the Seattle Seahawks and the early loss of quarterback Carson Wentz to a head injury left them struggling. They turned to 40-year-old back-up Josh McCown, who was about to coach high school football when he agreed to come back to the NFL in the summer.
Despite the Eagles defense holding up and the best efforts of McCown, they finally succumbed to Seattle 17-9.
Next weekend is the Divisional round, when the 49ers, Packers, Chiefs and Ravens enter the fray.