FOXBORO, Mass. — Some assorted notes and nuggets from the New England Patriots’ 20-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs:
— Long after every player and fan had vacated Gillette Stadium, one homemade banner remained affixed on the wall behind the south goal post. The words “PLEASE STAY, TOMMY” were spelled out on what appeared to be a bedsheet, their letters smudged and smeared by the cold December rain.
Whether Tommy — Tom Brady, who’s now is set to hit free agency when the NFL league year opens in March — stays will shape the future of the Patriots franchise.
The 42-year-old didn’t offer any hints during his postgame news conference, saying only he’s not likely to retire. Regardless, several of Brady’s teammates shared glowing memories of the time they’ve spent playing alongside with the legendary quarterback:
Special teams captain Matthew Slater: “It has been the experience of a lifetime. He does things the right way and has all the success in the world but still remains himself. I think that says a lot about who he is as a man, and ultimately I care more about that than him being a six-time champion. I am proud to call him a friend and thankful for everything he has taught me as a football player, but also as a man.”
Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett: “It’s meant everything. It?s been amazing. It?s been a long ride and an amazing ride. It?s a blessing. A lot of people can?t sit here and say that they?ve caught touchdown passes from Tom Brady. I?m one of them. There?s a lot of people that come through this league, and I know there?s a lot of people that would love to have a chance to play with him. I was one of them, so it?s been a blessing.”
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore: “One thing I?ll remember is his work ethic. Him coming to work every day and pushing himself no matter how great he is, he?ll still push himself. It rubs off on everybody. It rubs off on me. So I?m just happy to be a part of it.”
Tight end Ben Watson: “Having been away and watched the success and watched him, kept in touch here and there with a couple text messages here and there but not really seeing him too often, and to be able to come back, you definitely appreciate all that’s transpired in his career and also my career.”
Safety Devin McCourty: “I don?t know his future. That?s really on him. But I will say, from my second year being able to be a captain and sitting in those meetings and just hearing how he looks at the game — not just from a quarterback position but overall the game — and hearing his input each week when we got ready to go on Friday mornings taught me a lot as a leader. (It) taught me a lot from just understanding the game of football and how he looked at the game and the dedication and the preparation he put in. I got to learn that from Friday mornings at 7 a.m. for nine years straight. I got to do that. Just the conversations I?ve had with him throughout the years has made me a better player. It?s hard to imagine Tom not playing football; it?s hard to imagine him not playing here. But the business of football is what it is, but no matter what, in my 10 years here, to be able to learn from him and go against him, and from time to time intercept him at practice, has made me a way better player. I?ve appreciated everything he?s done for me and trying to help me out along the way.”
— Patriots safety Terrence Brooks appeared to take the loss especially hard. Nearly an hour after the final whistle, after nearly all of his teammates had left the locker room, Brooks sat in front of his stall, hood up, staring at the ground. He declined to speak with reporters — a rarity from a player who was the most open and accessible on the roster this season.
Brooks, who played well defensively in his first season as a Patriot after being used almost exclusively on special teams in his previous stops, was on the wrong end of two costly plays for New England.
One play after starting safety Patrick Chung was knocked out of the game with an ankle injury, Brooks allowed a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Anthony Firkser on third-and-10. Firkser beat Brooks again on third down on Tennesse’s final possession, allowing the Titans to drain an additional 2:30 off the clock.
By the time Brady and the Patriots’ offense got the ball back, just 15 seconds remained in regulation.
“(Chung) is one of our key players,” McCourty said. “We were already playing without (cornerback Jason McCourty, who missed the game with a groin injury), and then losing Pat, Pat?s always an integral part of our defensive plan. We lose him, and guys just have to rotate and fill the different roles he has. We?ve had to play without him a couple times this year, so guys were able to do it. But Pat?s a great player, and whenever you don?t have good players out there, it?s always tougher.”
— Firkser’s 23 receiving yards led all Titans players. With Derrick Henry (182 rushing yards) carrying the load on the ground, Tennessee’s passing game was nearly nonexistent. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed just 8 of 15 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown.
The Patriots held the Titans’ top two wide receivers, A.J. Brown and Corey Davis, to one total catch on three targets for 4 yards.
— Head coach Bill Belichick expressed his appreciation for this year’s Patriots team during his postgame presser.
“We gave up 14 points tonight, but in this game, it was too much,” Belichick said. “Weren?t able to get the ball back at the end. There were a lot of good things, but just not quite good enough tonight and that?s what it was. 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.”