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Did Tom Brady’s Patriots Career Just End on a Pick-Six?

The quarterback said he’s unlikely to retire this offseason, but he did little to diffuse the rumors that his days in New England are numbered

Wild Card Round - Tennessee Titans v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

“Please Stay Tommy.”

Patriots fans hung a sign emblazoned with those words in red and blue at Gillette Stadium on Saturday, a physical embodiment of the fears hanging over Foxborough. Patriots fans worried that their matchup against the Tennessee Titans, which marked New England’s first time playing on wild-card weekend in 10 years, could also be the last game for Tom Brady in a Patriots uniform. Fittingly, fog clouded the game. Still, no Patriots fans in attendance could have predicted that Brady’s last throw would be a pick-six to seal a 20-13 loss.

With Tom Brady backed up into his own end zone after the Titans pinned the Pats at the 1-yard line, he took the snap standing on the New England logo and then backpedaled onto the letter i in the word “Patriots.” Brady threw a pass for receiver Mohamed Sanu, but the ball was tipped into the hands of former Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan, who returned the ball 10 yards for a touchdown. Just as Brady released the ball, announcer Tony Romo said, “We’ll never see this run again, Jim.”

Brady finished with 20 completions on 37 passes (54 percent) for 209 yards (5.6 yards per attempt), no touchdowns, and one interception. New England’s defense gave up just two touchdowns, both coming in the first half, and held quarterback Ryan Tannehill to just eight completions on 15 attempts and 72 yards passing (4.8 yards per attempt). Running back Derrick Henry rumbled for 182 yards on 34 carries, the most carries a running back has had since Frank Gore in Week 14 of 2017. Yet Brady and the Patriots offense could not take advantage of Tennessee having its fewest offensive points since Week 6, when Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota.

The loss snaps one of the most dominant streaks in the history of American sports. Brady’s Patriots had reached the AFC championship game eight years in a row. Twenty-four of the NFL’s 32 teams have not reached eight championship games total. Brady has played in nine Super Bowls, more than any other franchise has in its history.

“That’s what happens when you throw the ball,” Brady said when asked about the pick-six after the game. “Wish it’d been a 99-yard touchdown. But it wasn’t.”

The pick-six is not the end of Tom Brady’s career. In his postgame press conference, Brady said it was “pretty unlikely” that he would retire. But when given the chance to defuse the rumors he could leave, he did not.

“Who knows what the future holds?” Brady said in his postgame press conference. “We’ll leave it at that.”

A reporter who did not want to leave it at that followed up by asking whether Brady would return to the Patriots in 2020.

“I love the Patriots,” Brady said. “It’s the greatest organization. Playing for Mr. Kraft all these years and for Coach Belichick, there is nobody who has had a better career than me just being with them. I’m very blessed and I don’t know what the future looks like, and I’m not going to predict it. I wish we’d won tonight. I wish we’d done a lot of things better over the course of the season, but we just didn’t get the job done.”

Brady structured his contract so that he could reach free agency this offseason. Brady and his wife Gisele Bundchen’s house is for sale. His personal trainer, Alex Guerrero, has already sold his home. He has taken below-market contracts that have helped the Patriots’ salary cap for years. (The low price tag has also made it more likely that he wouldn’t be cut by a team famously ruthless for getting rid of veterans.)

This contract negotiation may be different from past ones. Brady has seen dozens or even hundreds of Patriots players cut a year too early rather than a year too late, which has become New England’s signature personnel strategy. Brady, a former sixth-round pick who’s never forgotten his lowly draft status, has likely considered that a day of reckoning would come for him too. It would not be surprising if he wants to negotiate a deal that ensures the Patriots can’t treat him the way they’ve treated everyone else, whether that is with guaranteed money or other contract language.

It’s also possible that his time with the team has run its course. Brady may not be satisfied with New England’s pitiful group of skill-position players or optimistic that the team can improve it. The Patriots may not be willing to reinvest in a quarterback who will be 43 next year and wants to play until he is 45. If Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels leaves for a head coaching position, it would complicate everything. He has interviews scheduled with the Browns, Panthers, and Giants on January 10, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

“Again, I just don’t know what is going to happen,” Brady said in his final answer of his final press conference this season. “I’m not going to predict it. No one needs to make choices at this point. I love playing football. I love playing for this team. I love playing for this team for two decades and winning a lot of games. Again, I don’t know what it looks like moving forward, so we’ll take it day by day.”

Tom Brady left Foxborough on Saturday night. The fog is still there.