As the Patriots wrapped up on-field preparations for the Titans it was hard to avoid the feeling that this could be the end of Tom Brady's time in New England with his contract set to expire after the season.
Not surprisingly, neither Brady nor his head coach Bill Belichick were in the mood to get nostalgic, they're at the start of another playoff run and a daunting one at that. Their focus, as usual, was on what they could control directly in front of them, not the 20 years of football dominance behind them.
It's that thinking that brought them six titles and it's not going to stop now, no matter what might happen this offseason.
"Yeah, we're focused on the Titans,' said Belichick in his press conference when asked if it was strange to imagine this potentially being his last game with Brady. "That's all I'm focused on, so we'll do everything we can to get ready to go and play the best game we can play Saturday night."
Brady hit a similar tone in his press conference later in the day, acknowledging that the team was focused and confident in the plan they'd put together for Saturday's playoff game. Not one to get sentimental, Brady was locked in on the Titans.
"I'm just pretty focused on what I need to do, said Brady. "This week's felt pretty much like every other week for the last 20 years. I'm just trying to focus on what I need to do. This is a team that gives you a lot of challenges. Just have to go out there and try to play really well."
The recurring theme for Brady was not taking the moment for granted and understanding that the fate of the season could come down to a single play. The Patriots will need their best football game of the season and nothing less will get them past Tennessee.
"A lot of plays come up over the years when I think about playoff football," said Brady. "If you're on the wrong end of one of them it's your season, if you're on the right end you move on. You don't know which plays that's going to be and you can't take anything for granted so guys are working hard and trying to do the right thing."
Facing an opponent that knows them well and is one of the hottest teams in the league only adds to the challenge. The offense has been inconsistent this season and seemed like they were heading toward a peak after the Buffalo game, before getting derailed against the Dolphins.
Inconsistency in this game could end their season for good.
"Sometimes you gotta battle through it and it comes down to a couple plays at the end of the game and it's not perfect," said Brady. "There's been a lot of postseason games that have been like that where we're not blowing teams out 45-0. These are tight games, and it's one great catch, or one great tackle or one great interception or one great strip sack. That's just part of playing football this time of year. You're going up against a lot of good football teams and we gotta be able to make the play and if we don't, we know what happens and if we do, we know what happens."
Coaching Vacancies Update
Josh McDaniels is once again turning into a hot candidate as teams begin their head coaching searches. According to a report from the Boston Globe, McDaniels, as well as special teams/wide receivers coach Joe Judge were granted permission by the Patriots to interview with the New York Giants. The team also granted permission for McDaniels to interview with the Browns and Panthers.
Add McDaniels and Judge's potential departures to what was already shaping up to be a fascinating offseason.
Gilmore Wins Ron Hobson Good Guy Award
Stephon Gilmore was presented with the 2019 Ron Hobson Good Guy award, given annually to the Patriots player who is most helpful, available and accommodating with the media. Despite being an NFL super star, Gilmore continually made himself available to reporters in the locker room.
"You know, no matter what – win or loss – I try to be respectful and give the most accurate information I can," said Gilmore in accepting the award. "That's just the way I was raised. That's the way I am as a player on and off the field."
Previous winners were Matthew Slater (2016), Devin McCourty (2017) and James White (2018).
Practice & Injury Report
The Patriots held their final practice of the week inside Gillette Stadium on Thursday with full attendance. The team featured no absences during their week of preparation, but Jason McCourty remains a significant question mark in the secondary.
Marcus Cannon was removed from the report.
*QUESTIONABLE *LB Ja'Whaun Bentley, KneeDB Terrence Brooks, GroinLB Jamie Collins, ShoulderWR Julian Edelman, Knee / ShoulderCB Jonathan Jones, GroinCB Jason McCourty, Groin
Locker Room Sound Bites
Ben Watson on the Patriots playoff preparations:
"Obviously, we know what's at stake. It's a great opportunity to be in this situation. To have a chance to play in the playoffs is something a lot of people don't get. And we want to enjoy that and also appreciate what we earned throughout the season. That being said, we know that this was our last Friday practice unless we go out and win, so there's definitely a sense of urgency, there's a sense of respect for our opponent, understanding that we need to prepare in a way to play our best football."