If the sour ending of Saturday night’s AFC wild-card playoff matchup between the Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots did one thing, it may have just cemented Tom Brady’s return to Foxborough.
There is no way Tom Terrific is going to go out with a 20-13 home playoff loss to a No. 6 seed.
There is no way the greatest quarterback in history will be remembered for eternity by a Logan Ryan pick-six to cap football’s most brilliant career.
Who are we talking about here, Jameis Winston?
The last throw Brady ever makes in a New England Patriots uniform cannot be an interception returned for a touchdown by a former New England Patriot himself. It cannot end that way.
Hollywood won’t allow it. The Football Gods, as they’re called, won’t allow it. Fate won’t allow it.
The final chapter of the Greatest Story Football Ever Told does not conclude with the conquering hero being vanquished in the most ignominious of ways.
That’d be like Rocky losing in the 15th because he slipped on sweat. It’d be Secretariat botching the home stretch by stepping in a pothole.
This story already has too much of a Hollywood feel: Mike Vrabel, the young Jedi, returning to vanquish the evil Darth Vader on his own turf, using Bill Belichick’s own weapons against him; Julian Edelman, usually Cool Hand Luke – or at least Sure Hand Luke – making the worst drop of his career, then botching the final kickoff; Derrick Henry, dressed as Conan the Barbarian, taking football back four decades as he John Riggins-ed the Patriots defense; and Ryan Tannehill, perhaps having the most improbable script of them all, cast off by the Miami Dolphins only to usurp Marcus Mariota and topple the legendary Tom Brady in the playoffs.
And so it ends, the greatest romance the world has seen since Antony and Cleopatra, done in by a pedestrian offense and a brilliant defense that could no longer atone for it.
And so it ends, not with a whimper but with a thud.
Was this just the kind of poetic ending to drive Brady back into the arms of the one he loves? Or, at least, the one he tolerates?
Watching Brady seethe on the sidelines Saturday night just before the final kickoff, you got the sense that he was already rewriting a storybook ending in his own mind. In his eyes, you saw visions of Rob Gronkowski returning from a year off, fresher than ever. You saw visions of $49 million in cap space and of A.J. Green and of a retooled offense, one that may be down a coordinator with the possible exit of Josh McDaniels. Visions of just one more Super Bowl run, lucky No. 7.
Listening to him at the podium after the game, reassuring reporters that no decisions had been made, he didn’t come off as remorseful or mournful. He was not wistful. If anything, he sounded resolute.
“I love the Patriots,” Brady told reporters after the game. “It is the greatest organization, and playing for Mr. Kraft all these years, and for Coach Belichick — there’s nobody who has had a better career, I would say, than me, being with them. So I’m very blessed. I don’t know what the future looks like, so I’m not going to predict it. I wish we would have won tonight. I wish we would have done a lot of things better over the course of the season. We just didn’t get the job done.”
On Saturday, what we saw was not vintage Brady, but how could he have been? The Patriots’ three leading receivers were running back James White, tight end Ben Watson and running back Rex Burkhead. Edelman, one of Brady’s favorite targets for more a decade, played perhaps the worst playoff game of his career, finishing with three catches for 30 yards and that terrible drop on New England’s last real offensive possession.
This was not the precision Patriots offense that we are accustomed to. When things are clicking, and the pieces are in place, the New England attack is a Patek Philippe timepiece, intricate to the final details. Saturday night, the Patriots were a used Casio watch.
Brady knows it. More than anything, he feels it.
“Third down and red area were a problem for us, and I don’t think they were particularly great areas over the course of the season,” he said. “It was just a tough way to end it tonight.”
If, indeed, this is the ending.
After that kind of loss, and that kind of finish == anything but storybook — here’s betting that Tom Brady picks up the pen one more time and rewrites his own history.