FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Wearing a dark winter hat on his head and a mix of disappointment and frustration across his face, Tom Brady reacted to Tennessee’s 20-13 wild-card game victory over New England here by doing what he’s done better than any other quarterback in the history of the game.
He threw the ball ... in this case, right into the decision-making court of Patriots owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick.
At least that’s how it sounded.
Is Brady, who would turn 43 before the 2020 season, going to retire from the NFL?
“I would say it’s pretty unlikely,” Brady said.
OK, well, if he’s coming back to play, will it be with New England? After 20 years here, his contract is up and he’s free to go wherever he wants.
“I love the Patriots,” Brady said. “They obviously [are] the greatest organization and playing for Mr. Kraft all these years and Coach Belichick, nobody has 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 and I am not going to predict it. I wish we had won tonight.”
He was asked again, later, and while he tried to deflect things, he also got his message across.
“Again, I don’t want to get too much into the future and stuff,” Brady said. “We fought hard. We battled every day to get better ... I was proud to be a part of this team. Not only this year, but every year. Again, I don’t know what is going to happen and I am not going to predict it. No one needs to make choices at this point.
“I love playing football,” Brady continued. “I love playing for this team. I’ve loved playing for this team for two decades and winning a lot of games. I don’t know what it will be like moving forward, so we’ll just take it day by day.”
Brady has been talking to the media for decades. He knows exactly what he is saying and what he isn’t saying. He also knows when to say nothing.
What he got across late Saturday night was that he wants to play football and he seemingly wants to play football for the Patriots. He doesn’t want to go anywhere, no matter if his mansion is for sale or he stepped down from a local charity or anything else that’s out there.
That shifts the pressure to the Pats braintrust. This isn’t Tom seeking greener pastures — not that there are many great options out there for him.
Brady wanted a contract extension last year, but didn’t get one. Instead he restructured so he was free to leave. His words Saturday suggested this will mostly be Kraft and Belichick's decision.
“Right now, we just finished the game, so we’re focused on the game,” Belichick said.
That was all the Tom Brady talk Belichick was going to engage in.
The New England offense wasn’t good enough Saturday, or at nearly any point during the season. Brady wasn’t bad, however.
He finished 20 of 37 for 209 yards on a night when no one was moving the ball (the two teams combined for 579 total net yards). He made some excellent throws and his only true blemish was a pick-6 on the last play from scrimmage when the Pats were pinned on their own 1-yard line and in desperation mode.
It was again obvious that Brady had little to work with. There was no deep threat. Veteran Julian Edelman dropped a sure first down on a would-be game-winning drive that effectively ended the season. Rookie N’Keal Harry dropped an easy pass in the flat early to help stall another drive.
Brady’s longest pass downfield was called back due to a lineman wandering too far downfield. When the Pats were sitting at first and goal in the second quarter, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called for three running plays (all of which failed). McDaniels either chose to take the ball out of his Hall of Famer’s hands, or suspected he didn’t have a single receiver capable of getting open.
Brady isn’t what he once was, but there are a lot worse out there. After reaching eight consecutive AFC Championship games and four of the last five Super Bowls (winning three), there are no moral victories here. Still, getting 12 wins and another AFC East title out of this crew was an accomplishment.
Maybe they could have and should have beaten Tennessee, but Kansas City or Baltimore were going to end this thing soon enough.
Does Belichick want to try to retool the offense with Brady as his quarterback, or roll the dice with someone else?
And would Kraft even allow it?
The soap opera possibilities here remained endless as the "Brady, Brady" chants echoed down from the Gillette Stadium stands.
All that was certain is that New England’s season was done, but Tom Brady wanted to make it clear that he wasn’t. He wants to play and it sure sounded like he’d prefer to keep doing it for the only franchise he’s ever known.
“It’s hard to imagine Tom not playing football,” longtime teammate Devin McCourty said. “And it’s hard to imagine him not playing here. But the business of football is what it is.”
Bill Belichick is in the business of football. So is Robert Kraft.
Tom Brady seemed to be daring them to make a business decision.
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