So, what does an NFL broadcaster do when a season ends so abruptly? Stare out the window and wait for September to come back around?
"Well, I don't want to sound like [Bill] Belichick and the players, but it's already on to the next season for me,'' said Bob Socci, whose third season as the Patriots' radio play-by-play voice on 98.5 The Sports Hub ended with the team's 20-18 loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game last Sunday.
"Obviously, there's more time for my kids and my wife, more time for me to be a better husband, and I'm looking forward to that.
"But I'm already looking forward to next year. I'll sit down and evaluate what I thought went well, what didn't go well this past season, how I can get better, increase my knowledge about the game, understanding the league a lot better than I have in terms of the economics of it.
"I'll go to the combine in a couple of weeks, spend a few days out there, start getting ready for the season ahead."
A new season is never as far ahead as it seems. The draft is in late April. There are rookie minicamps in May, organized team activities in June, and training camp begins in late July. And there are always personnel transactions along the way to keep our interest.
Still, it can be a challenge to think of the last season immediately in the past tense. Belichick described the it's-over finality of the Broncos loss as a "crash landing to end the season,'' an analogy Terry Francona also sometimes used during his eight seasons managing the Red Sox.
"Belichick phrased it as best as anybody could: It was like a crash landing,'' said Socci. "The last few days, it's gotten harder to resign myself to the fact that there's no game to call.
"You get so used to your routine during the season. One game leads to the next, and the preparation is just continuous.
"Then all of a sudden, the 2-point conversion is passed, it's intercepted, the onside kick is recovered, and that's it. I thought I came to grips with it pretty well Sunday night, when we got home and I walked in my house and saw my kids asleep in their beds. But the last couple days, it's been kind of difficult, because of the routine of the season being over."
The suddenness most affects the players and team personnel — football is their job and a significant part of their everyday life, after all. But it also affects fans, and those on the periphery of the team, such as the broadcasters and other media. For better or worse, replaying the key plays over and over in your mind is irresistible if you have any kind of investment in a team.
"There are any of number of plays that I'll replay, just like from any game, whether it's the broadcast of it or the actual playing of the game,'' said Socci. "But you know what? We are so fortunate here for years to have reached this point that I try to at least to think of what it's like for so many of my counterparts around the league."
Socci said he was prepared for the ending during his first season in the Patriots broadcast booth, when the team, sans important players such as Rob Gronkowski, lost to a superior Broncos team in the AFC Championship game. Last year was a different story, Socci said, because the Patriots were playing in the season finale no matter how it played out.
"The one thing about calling a Super Bowl, as we did last year, is you know that there's finality after that game,'' Socci said. "Even when the Seahawks had second down and goal to go and it looked like the Patriots were going to lose that game, there's still an established closure coming one way or the other.
"This year, I tried to balance my outlook between those two previous years. I expected the Patriots to win, I was very confident going into the game in Denver. But I didn't want to count my chickens, so to speak. In retrospect, maybe I did try to peek ahead more than I wanted to."
Socci cites Chiefs broadcaster Mitch Holthus, who has called one playoff win since becoming the team's play-by-play voice in 1994. Or John Murphy, who became the Bills' play-by-play in 2003 (his association with the team goes back years earlier) and still has not called a playoff game.
"You think about that, and I try to count my blessings," said Socci. "Although we're really disappointed, it's been a blast from the start. We can't wait to do it again."