On the surface, the Patriots' defeat against the Titans on Saturday night at the 20:13 wildcard playoff seemed to be a visual opening for the AFC and the entire NFL.
The rule of the undisputed kings of the league in the past two decades – participating in nine Super Bowls, six of them, winners of 17 AFC East titles and 30 playoff games – seemed to be at the moment when the titans were wild on the pitch The patriots had won their last eight playoff games and 23 of the previous 27.
Winds of change, as icy and unforgiving as the gusts that blew through the entire north-east corridor on Sunday, are indeed blowing in New England.
For starters, most of New England believes quarterback Tom Brady threw his last pass as a patriot.
Bill Belichick's offensive guru Josh McDaniels is again a hot candidate for head coaching openings that are expected to interview the Giants as well as Cleveland and Carolina this week.
Belichick's trusted hiring manager, Nick Caserio, whom the Texans tried to lure away last year, is expected to leave for a larger front office job elsewhere.
The patriots' uncertainty is compounded by the fact that some of Belichick's top veterans, such as special team leader Matthew Slater, defenders Devin McCourty and Benjamin Watson, may be threatened with resignation, and other key players like linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins and guardian Joe Thuney are free agents who could run away from more lucrative contracts.
In this off-season, patriots face much more questions than in the past two decades of dominance. At the beginning of each of these questions, the question arises whether Brady will stay on the team.
There is a financial incentive for the patriots to sign Brady again: if not, it will cost them $ 13.5 million in dead-cap fees for 2020 plus another $ 6.75 million for 2021. If he leaves , the Chargers, Colts and the Panthers – with McDaniels – could be landing sites.
When he met reporters on Sunday after the loss to Tennessee, Belichick was ready to say nothing about Brady's future, himself, the team, or the weather outside.
"I'm sure there are many questions about the future, [but] Nobody thought about the future, ”Belichick said in his opening speech before a question could be asked. "Whatever the future, we'll deal with it later. We certainly won't be worrying about it now."
When asked if he had a "timeline" in mind when to meet Brady, who would become a free agent on March 18, Belichick said, "No."
When asked if he "wanted clarity on Brady's situation" before the new league year started in March, Belichick said, "Honestly, I know it's out there, just like with many other things there. We could ask 50 questions like this and I told you how I'm doing [of mind] is on it. You can ask all 50 questions and it will be the same answer 50 times.
"We worked in Tennessee, it's 12 hours after the game. [I’m] I'm not going to talk much about the future because … I'm not ready to talk about it. These are all questions that at a certain point have to be answered by the organization, myself, the coaching staff, and some players. But these are collective decisions that are not made by one person. They are created collectively, and that takes a lot of time, thought, effort, and communication. Now is not the right time.
"All future questions are the future."
No future is more important for the patriots than that of Brady, who sounded somber and wistful after the game and said: "I love the patriots" and the patriots "the best organization and the best game" [owner] Mr. [Robert] Kraft all these years and coach Belichick, no one has had a better career, I would say, than just being with them.
"I don't know what the future will be, and I won't predict it," Brady continued. "I don't want too much in the future and all. I don't know what's going to happen and I won't predict it. No one has to make decisions at this point."