FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ quest for a record seventh Super Bowl championship ended abruptly Saturday night at Gillette Stadium with a 20-13 upset loss to the Tennessee Titans in the wild-card round of the N.F.L. playoffs. The defeat for the defending Super Bowl champions was a startling setback at home, where New England has won 20 out of 24 postseason games over the last two decades.
The defeat may signal the beginning of the end for the celebrated Patriots partnership between Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, a combination that has made the team America’s foremost sports dynasty of this century.
If it was Brady’s last game, the final play of his career will have been a pick-six from his own 1-yard line on a night that belonged to Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, who ran for 182 yards and one touchdown.
After the game, Belichick declined to answer questions about Brady’s future with the team, but when asked by reporters about the status of his retirement plans, Brady replied: “I would say it’s pretty unlikely. Yeah, hopefully unlikely.”
Their six Super Bowl titles together — which put the Patriots in a tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most ever — are two more than any other coach-quarterback tandem in N.F.L. history has won. But in mid-March, Brady will become a free agent for the first time in his career, unless he signs a new contract with the Patriots before then.
Over the past few months, Brady, 42, has been unusually noncommittal about his future with the team and has suggested that retirement is a possibility. He also has put his custom-built mansion outside Boston up for sale and reportedly bought an estate in Greenwich, Conn.
In addition to nine Super Bowl appearances together — also a record — Belichick and Brady made it to eight consecutive A.F.C. championship games from 2011 to 2018. They have combined to win 11 successive A.F.C. East titles, and the 2007 Patriots recorded the only undefeated 16-game regular season in league history. New England has played in half of the Super Bowls contested since 2001.
But last month, in the finale of a successful, if uneven, regular season, the Patriots notably stumbled, losing to the last-place Miami Dolphins. The Patriots still had a sterling 12-4 regular-season record, but the defeat cost them a bye in the opening round of the postseason, a highly advantageous position New England had earned for the last nine seasons.
Instead, as the third seed in the A.F.C., the Patriots were forced to play the Titans on Saturday, the first time New England has been in a wild card game since after the 2009 regular season. That game, also at Gillette Stadium, ended in a 33-14 upset loss to the Baltimore Ravens, who lost in the next round.