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Derrick Henry, Tennessee steamroll, eliminate punchless Patriots

Belichick: It’s always disappointing to end like this
Bill Belichick talks after the 20-13 loss to the Titans Saturday night. (Shelby Lum|Globe Staff)

FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots are done for the season – but it doesn’t sound like Tom Brady is done with football.

The Patriots were bounced out of the playoffs by the Titans Saturday night, 20-13, in the wild-card round — losing for the third time in their last four games at Gillette Stadium.

Though Brady’s future is unclear, the six-time Super Bowl champion did say it’s “unlikely” he’s going to retire, leaving open the possibility he’ll be back for his 21st season as a Patriot next summer, when he’ll turn 43.

“I just don’t know what’s going to happen [and] I’m not going to predict it,’’ a dejected but not despondent Brady said. “No one needs to make choices at this point. I love playing football, I love playing for this team. I’ve loved playing for this team for two decades — we’ve won a lot of games. We’ll just take it day by day.’’

Longtime teammate and defensive captain Devin McCourty doesn’t want to break up the band.


“It’s hard to imagine Tom not playing football and it’s hard to imagine him not playing here,’’ he said.

If this was, indeed, Brady’s final home game as a Patriot, it will not be remembered as one of his team’s finest postseason performances.

Brady’s final pass ended up in the hands of former teammate Logan Ryan, who returned it 9 yards for a touchdown, sealing the deal with just nine seconds left on the clock.

New England (12-5) was run over by Derrick Henry, Tennessee’s mammoth tailback who landed body blow after body blow on a Patriot defense that was game but couldn’t get off the mat and was finally counted out.

Henry finished with a workhorse-like 182 yards on 34 carries.

It was enough to compensate for a mediocre performance from Ryan Tannehill, who won his first career playoff game (and first ever at Gillette) despite hitting just 8 of 15 passes for 72 yards.


Though they had chances to punch their ticket to Kansas City, the Patriots were again bit by two season-long bugaboos — converting on third down and in the red zone.

The Patriots converted just 5 of 13 third down attempts and went 1 for 3 in the red zone.

“I definitely think tonight the red area was a problem for us,’’ said Brady. “I don’t think those were particularly good areas for us this season. It was just a tough way to end it tonight. If we want to win those games we have to do a better job.’’

Brady says it is ‘unlikely’ he will retire
Tom Brady spoke after the 20-13 loss to the Titans on Saturday. (Shelby Lum|Globe Staff)

The Patriots lost the opening coin toss and that was not necessarily a bad thing as they entered the game 9-1 when the first call of the game didn’t go their way.

After starting with a pair of ugly incompletions, Brady (20-of 37 passing, 209 yards) connected with tight end Ben Watson (a nifty diving 21-yard catch with Jayon Brown draped all over him) and James White (a 29-yard screen job with excellent downfield blocking) to get into Titans territory.

They managed only 7 more yards, courtesy of a Sony Michel run, and settled for Nick Folk’s 36-yard field goal to take a short-lived 3-0 lead.

The Titans (10-7) answered with a 75-yard march featuring the bullish Henry. The monster truck tailback accounted for 49 yards on seven carries.


The rejuvenated Tannehill finished the drive by delivering a 12-yard laser to tight end Anthony Firkser to give the Titans a 7-3 lead.

The score came only one play after safety Patrick Chung was forced to leave with an ankle injury. Tannehill went right after Chung’s replacement, Terrence Brooks, whom Firkser beat by a step.

Brady, who was greeted by loud chants of his name every time he took the field, brought this team right back, ripping off 75 yards on 10 plays.

Michel flexed his muscle on the drive with his 25-yard bounce off left tackle, the longest play. Brady also hit Watson (11 yards) and Rex Burkhead (9 yards) before White came up with the biggest play, sprinting 14 yards to convert a third-and-2 to the Tennessee 7.

Two plays later Julian Edelman scooted in on a 5-yard jet sweep (credit N’Keal Harry with the edge-setting block) for his first career rushing touchdown and a 10-7 lead.

Edelman now has accounted for touchdowns passing, receiving, punt returning, and rushing in his career.

The Patriots stifled the Titans on consecutive second-quarter drives and had an ideal chance to put it in the end zone again, but their struggles in the red area came back to haunt them.

Brady orchestrated another 10-play drive, getting his guys to the Titans 1-yard line where the march stalled thanks to Rashaan Evans.

The second-year linebacker from Alabama performed a one-man goal-line stand, denying Michel, Burkhead, and Michel again on consecutive plays.


The Patriots settled for a 21-yard Folk field goal to extend the lead to 13-7 with 2:18 left before intermission.

The Titans — well, Henry, really — needed only 1:41 to seize the lead.

Henry touched the ball on six of the seven plays and accounted for all 75 yards – 53 of them on the ground — as Tennessee took a 14-13 lead to the locker room.

The Titans couldn’t add to their lead out of the second-half gates as again the Patriots stiffened.

New England had something cooking on its initial drive of the third quarter, moving efficiently until a tough stretch that included a bad drop by Harry and an even worse illegal man downfield penalty on Shaq Mason that wiped out a long third-down completion to Watson.

That was followed up by a bad Jake Bailey shank punt that gave the Titans decent field position but they couldn’t capitalize — Kyle Van Noy’s sack and a poor Tannehill throw thwarting the drive.

New England couldn’t create any momentum of its own, despite moving 32 yards in four plays, its drive ended with a pair of Brady incompletions and the score remained 14-13 at the end of the third quarter.

Henry’s legs were still fresh in the fourth quarter when he ran 11 times for 50 yards to help kill the clock and New England’s season.

McCourty said the bond that exists with this team and this organization is strong and he’s now looking to the future.


“This group is close and we’ve always had each others’ backs,’’ he said. “That’s just the way it is here. Incredible leadership from Mr. Kraft to Coach Belichick.’’

Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.