It was a somber day in Foxborough for the Patriots less than 24 hours after bowing out of the playoffs to the Tennessee Titans with a disappointing 20-13 loss. Head coach Bill Belichick held a season-ending press conference with players being available one final time in the locker room as they cleaned up their belongings and prepared for the offseason.
"Proud of the way these guys have worked and competed all year," said Belichick. "Wish we could have done a little bit more, but that's life in the NFL."
Center Ted Karras, an upcoming free agent who put together a solid season in replacement of starter David Andrews, was in foreign territory after his first three seasons in the league all ended at the Super Bowl.
"It's a weird feeling packing up your stuff at the end of a season, finishing on a loss," said Karras. "It stinks. I've watched the game like four times. It is what it is. I'm not really ready to say that I'm over it. It's one of those things you can't wait to get back in pads in August."
Phillip Dorsett was also left gobsmacked by the loss, with thoughts of what could've been still on his mind.
"You replay everything in your head," said Dorsett. "You try to clear it up, if you keep thinking about it it will drive you crazy. You try to throw it in the trash and move on. It's not that easy."
The Patriots ended the season much in the same fashion they played the season, with inconsistency on offense being the key feature. Belichick and the players didn't put it on the personnel but how they played.
"I think it just comes down to execution," said Rex Burkhead when asked about why the offense never found its stride. "We just didn't execute to the best of our abilities at times. You can see when we did, good things happened. Ultimately, we didn't do it enough."
Bill Belichick reflected that the team had more than held its own all season, winning 12 games and sticking in every game they played.
"The team was constructed very competitively," said Belichick. "I think that was reflected in our overall play during the course of the year. Again, we lost four games that basically came down to the last possession, again, other than the Baltimore game, which that was a pretty competitive game, too."
"[H]ad a couple things been a little different, maybe the outcome would have been a little different. So, I think we all had a part in the wins, we all had a part shared in the losses. We've got to try to do better in all of those areas, each of us that are a part of the team going forward, and each of us did that over the course of the year."
Now the Patriots begin a fascinating offseason loaded with questions as to which coaches and players will be back, headlined by the quarterback Tom Brady who is slated to hit free agency for the first time in his career.
While Belichick stressed that his and team's focus had been solely on the Titans game over the last week and they hadn't yet looked forward to what the spring might hold, he acknowledged Brady's stature.
"Certainly, Tom's an iconic figure in this organization, and nobody respects Tom more than I do," said Belichick. "I respect all of the other players and all of the other coaches in this organization, too. I think that everybody that is part of it is an important part of it, and I want to give the proper attention and communication and detail and thought into my input into those decisions. But, any decision's made – it's not an individual decision. There are other people involved, and so there has to be some type of communication, understanding, agreement – whatever you want to call it – and that's not a one-way street."
Those decisions will be complicated and aside from Brady there are other significant players with their futures in doubt, including Devin McCourty, Kyle Van Noy and Joe Thuney among others.
While the Patriots offseason might be starting early and in disappointing fashion this season, there will be no lack of intrigue and the dominoes could begin to fall as soon as this week when Josh McDaniels is slated to being head coaching interviews.
Be sure to keep an eye on Patriots.com as we'll quickly turn the page to the offseason and have every angle covered, from internal and external free agency to the coaching carousel and the draft.
The 2019 season might be over but, as always, the Patriots drama continues.