The New England Patriots' season, and possibly the Tom Brady era as a whole, ended in sudden and disappointing fashion on Saturday night, as the Patriots were unable to sustain any sort of offense before falling at home to the Tennessee Titans 20-13 in the AFC Wild Card game. Here are five quick takes from the season-ending loss.
1. Offensive ineptitude proves costly
All season long, and especially over the second half of the season, the New England Patriots offense hasn't performed anywhere near the level that fans have come to expect. Despite posting 307 yards of offense and going 5 for 13 on third down conversions, the Patriots couldn't make the most of their chances, settling for two field goals in the red zone while punting on each of the team's first four second half possessions.
The two most costly possessions came near the end of each half. Leading 10-7 with 8:00 to play in the second quarter, New England started near midfield and drove all the way down to the Tennessee goal line. Rex Burkhead was brought down by Rashaan Evans at the 1-yard-line on a 12-yard completion that looked like a sure touchdown, but then the Patriots failed to punch the ball in from the one on the next three plays. Rather than take a 17-7 lead, the Patriots settled for a field goal to pull ahead by six.
Then in the fourth, the Patriots forced a Titans punt after Tennessee milked 8:01 off the clock, giving the team one last solid opportunity to drive for the lead trailing 14-13 with 4:44 to play. Brady found James White for a 20-yard completion, but then the drive stalled out and New England was forced to punt, effectively allowing the Titans to run out the remainder of the clock.
2. Henry runs wild
Derrick Henry was the most prolific rusher in the NFL this fall, and Tennessee's gameplan effectively boiled down to "hand the ball off to Henry on every play." A good strategy, as it turned out. Henry rushed for 182 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries while also making a 22-yard catch to put him at 204 yards from scrimmage overall. Even when the everyone in Gillette Stadium knew that Henry was getting the ball, the Patriots defense couldn't do anything to stop him, as the big back averaged 5.4 yards per carry and helped the Titans finish 6 for 12 on third down conversions.
3. Firkser closes it out
The Titans only posted 71 yards passing on the day, but while Ryan Tannehill wasn't the world beater he's been recently and only completed 8 or 15 passes, his connection with tight end Anthony Firkser proved enormously consequential. Tannehill hit the Harvard graduate for a 12-yard touchdown pass to cap off a 12-play scoring drive on Tennessee's first possession of the game, and then with 2:54 to play, he hit Firkser on 3rd and 8 for an 11-yard first down, preventing the Patriots from getting the ball back with any meaningful time while effectively clinching the win.
4. Ryan's last laugh
There were points when it looked like Logan Ryan might be the reason why the Patriots would win the game. The ex-Patriots cornerback dropped a sure pick-six and was called for a holding penalty that extended a New England drive and gave the team an opportunity to potentially score. Neither of those mistakes wound up costing his team, and on Tom Brady's last pass of the game, he nabbed a pick-six to clinch the win and end any hope of one last Tom Brady comeback.
5. Big changes coming
After years of maintaining the same core group of players, this offseason will likely bring significant change to the New England locker room. Tom Brady will be a free agent in March and may not return, tight end Ben Watson indicated that he will likely retire, the McCourty twins could step away and starters like Joe Thuney, Ted Karras, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and others are all free agents.
While it's impossible to predict exactly who will stay and who will go, it's a certainty that next year's team will look a lot different.
Mac Cerullo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.