FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — After the eerie Foxborough fog lifted, it became clear New England's reign atop the NFL was ending.
Derrick Henry ensured that with the kind of dominating postseason performance usually reserved for Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Henry rushed for 182 yards and a touchdown on his 26th birthday to lead the offensive charge for the Tennessee Titans, whose defense stymied Brady in a 20-13 victory Saturday night in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs — and perhaps ended the 42-year-old quarterback's dynastic career in New England.
His final pass of the game was picked off and returned for an interception.
Brady, who won his sixth Super Bowl title with coach Brady Belichick and the Patriots last February, vowed to be back on an NFL field next season. This loss, though, marked not only the end of the AFC East champions' season but Brady's latest contract.
"I love the Patriots," Brady said, adding about the possibility of his NFL career being over after 20 seasons: "I would say it's pretty unlikely, hopefully unlikely. I love playing football. I don't know what it looks like moving forward."
Doing the most moving forward Saturday night was Henry, who had a total of 184 rushing yards in two playoff games during the 2017 season. He nearly got that against the league's top-ranked defense while boosting the Titans (10-7) into the divisional round.
Tennessee won its regular-season finale against division rival Houston to secure the conference's final wild-card berth — the Texans (11-6), the AFC South champions, won 22-19 in overtime against the wild-card Buffalo Bills (10-6) earlier Saturday and will visit AFC West champion Kansas City (13-4) on Sunday, Jan. 12 — and now the Titans' road takes them to the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens (14-2).
The Titans-Ravens game is set for 8:15 p.m. next Saturday and will be televised by CBS.
"It's a great win against a great team in a hostile environment," Henry said. "Credit to my team. I'm just happy we were able to advance.
Henry — the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama and a second-round draft pick for the Titans in 2016 at No. 45 overall — has increased his rushing total each of his seasons as a professional, leading the league in 2019 with 1,540 yards.
"We were just locked in," he added. "That was our mindset: Just coming in here doing what we needed to do in all three phases, stay locked in no matter what happens in the game, and I feel like we did that."
As that dense fog that shrouded Gillette Stadium for the first half dissipated, the Patriots, who made the past three Super Bowls and won two, stalled repeatedly with the ball. They no longer were the bullies on the block, with Henry doing the pushing around.
As for this defeat, the Patriots' fourth in the wild-card round, Brady noted: "They kind of stopped us in the first half and the second half, and we couldn't get the job done."
There had been no scoring in the second half when All-Pro selection Brett Kern's 58-yard punt that took up 10 of the final 25 seconds rolled down at the New England 1. Brady then was intercepted by former teammate Logan Ryan, who returned the pick 9 yards for a touchdown to finish off the Patriots (12-5), who started 8-0 but lost three of their final regular-season games.
The first three possessions of Saturday's game were long scoring drives. A 29-yard screen pass to James White set up Nick Folk's 36-yard field goal for the Patriots, but Tennessee answered with a 75-yard march built around Henry and capped by Ryan Tannehill's 12-yard pass to tight end Anthony Firkser, who became the first former Harvard player to score a touchdown in an NFL postseason game.
New England counterpunched with its own 75-yard drive, taking temporary control of the game by victimizing Tennessee's defense on the outside. The Titans looked slow trying to protect the flanks as Sony Michel broke off a 25-yard run and White had a 14-yarder.
New England receiver Julian Edelman finished it with the first rushing touchdown of his 11 pro seasons, a 5-yard dash to the unprotected left side of Tennessee's defense.
The Patriots appeared primed for another touchdown after Mohamed Sanu's 14-yard punt return set them up at the Titans' 47, and they steadily drove to first-and-goal at the 1. All they got was Folk's 21-yard field goal as three runs failed. It was the 13th time the Patriots had first-and-goal at the 1 in a playoff game in the Brady era but the first time they failed to get a touchdown on the drive.
Tannehill led the NFL during the regular season with a career-best 117.5 passer rating and by averaging 9.6 yards per pass, but the former longtime Miami Dolphins starter didn't do a whole lot Saturday night in his first postseason game. He was 8-of-15 passing for 72 yards, and his awful decision to put the ball up for grabs on the first play of the fourth quarter resulted in Duron Harmon's interception.
New England's spotty attack flopped and never revived, though. That wasn't unusual during the second half of the schedule, but this was the most costly stumble, even more than the regular-season finale loss to Miami when a victory would have secured a bye — something that has preceded each of New England's Super Bowl title runs.
Tannehill's passing yards were the fewest for a starter since the Ravens' Joe Flacco had 34 in a wild-card win against the Patriots 10 years ago.
However, Tannehill — who was traded to Tennessee last March and didn't become the starter until halfway through the season as he replaced struggling fifth-year pro Marcus Mariota — now has five victories over Brady, second only to Peyton Manning's six for the most by an opposing quarterback since 2001, including the playoffs.
Henry churned out the most rushing yards against a Belichick-coached Patriots team in the playoffs, setting the tone by running for 49 yards on the Titans' first touchdown drive. On the team's second scoring march, all Henry did was gain every yard: 22 on a screen pass and 53 rushing, including a 1-yard dive into the end zone for a 14-13 halftime lead.
Those were Tennessee's first points in the final two minutes of a first half since Week 8.
Said Titans coach Mike Vrabel: "When you can run it when the other team knows you're going to run it, that says a lot about your running game."
Vrabel, a former star linebacker for New England who won three Super Bowl rings, is a rare member of the Belichick coaching tree to defeat the Patriots' longtime coach head to head in the playoffs. Another of those, Houston's Bill O'Brien — Vrabel was the Texans' defensive coordinator before taking over in Nashville prior to the 2018 season — also did it this season.
New England's costly home loss to Miami was engineered by another former Belichick assistant, Brian Flores.
"I told them that to win the game, you're going to have to be mentally and physically exhausted," Vrabel said. "You're going to get rubbed defensively. There's going to be gadgets. They going to force you to think. We didn't hand them anything. They feast on bad football."
Added Vrabel, who had downplayed his New England link ahead of the game: "I don't think our guys spend a lot of time looking at those banners."
It was the earliest postseason exit for Brady and the Patriots in a decade.
"I think we're all running out of time and chances, every year that goes by," said Brady, who was held without a touchdown pass for the second consecutive postseason game but just the fourth time since 2001. "I don't think I'm the only one in that category."
A four-time Super Bowl MVP and three-time winner of the league's season MVP award, Brady has said he wants to play until he is 45. He passed for 4,057 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions during the 2019 regular season, and he completed fewer than 56% of his passes six times in the final eight games of the year.
A sixth-round draft pick in 2000, he became the team's starting quarterback the following season when Drew Bledsoe was injured and led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl title, the start of a new-century dynasty for team owner Robert Kraft.
"Who knows what the future holds? We'll leave it at that." Brady said. "I love the Patriots. It's the greatest organization. Playing for Mr. Kraft all these years and for Coach Belichick, there's nobody who's had a better career than me, just being with them. So I'm very blessed."
The love from New England fans has never waned. A fan in the front row hung a banner reading, "Please Stay Tommy." The rest of the crowd showed its love by chanting his name a half-dozen times throughout the night.
Afterward, Brady walked off the field, his helmet off and his head hanging low, surrounded by photographers and security, before jogging the last few steps to the stairway that leads to the locker room.
Whether he will ever be back could be the most interesting drama of the offseason.
"I don't want to get too much into the future and stuff," he said. "I just don't know what's going to happen, and I'm not going to predict it. No one needs to make choices at this point."
Although the Patriots have at times attempted to groom Brady's successor — including Jacoby Brissett, now with the Indianapolis Colts, and Jimmy Garoppolo, now with the San Francisco 49ers — Jarrett Stidham is the only other quarterback on the roster. A fourth-round pick out of Auburn last spring, he threw four passes during his rookie season.
Belichick refused to say whether he thought Brady would be back. Defensive captain Devin McCourty said it's difficult to predict what will happen in the offseason, when football decisions are strictly about business.
"It's hard to imagine Tom not playing football," McCourty said. "It's hard to imagine him not playing here."