FOXBORO, Mass. — Two-and-a-half minutes into his postgame media scrum Saturday night, Ben Watson was asked about his plans for the future.
The 39-year-old tight end had put off retirement last offseason to return to the New England Patriots, the team that drafted him way back in 2004. He wanted one more shot at a Super Bowl title. Now that those hopes were dashed, his season over following a 20-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium, does he plan on continuing his playing career?
Watson paused for 19 seconds before responding.
“It’s difficult,” he said, his voice cracking. “I love this game, but there is a time when you definitely have to move on. I definitely won’t be back here next year, probably, and I probably won’t be playing at all. (Retirement) is something that I’ve tried to do before, and it didn’t work, but there’s only so much your body can take and only so much you want to put your family through before you want to settle down and have some roots and figure out what the next chapter of your life is going to be.
“So we’re going to talk about it, of course. We make family decisions. But it’s been a great run, and it’s been really special to be back here, especially to have the opportunity to play.”
An emotional Ben Watson says tonight likely was his final NFL game. pic.twitter.com/2TO3hhrdSd
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) January 5, 2020
This season was a difficult one for Watson. He was suspended for the first four games for a PED violation, then surprisingly released upon his return — a move that did not sit well with quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots ultimately re-signed Watson, and he wound up leading the team’s lackluster tight end group in catches (17) and yards (173) despite not making his season debut until Week 7.
Saturday’s wild-card round playoff loss was one of Watson’s best games of the season. He had a bad drop that nearly resulted in a pick-six but caught three passes on four targets for 38 yards and had another 38-yard completion — on third-and-10, no less — wiped away by an ineligible man downfield penalty.
Tears streamed down Watson’s face as he walked off the field, likely for the final time.
“It was special,” Watson said of this season, his first back in New England since 2009. “It was definitely special. Obviously, you have a storybook ending in your mind, of course, so that’s hard. But reconnecting with some of those guys and really seeing how everybody’s just grown so much — Matthew (Slater), he was young. He was a rookie. Now, he’s one of the leaders on the team. … And obviously being able to be by (Tom Brady) and chop it up and talk and just see how life is going has been really special to me.”
Brady and Slater, like Watson, are among the 20 Patriots players set to hit free agency when the NFL league year opens in March.