MINNEAPOLIS: The New England Patriots were left contemplating the possible end of an era on Sunday as they struggled to digest their upset Super Bowl defeat.
The greatest NFL dynasty of the last two decades had already shown signs of breaking apart even before their 41-33 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles in Minneapolis.
Those fissures widened even further in the aftermath of a shattering loss, when star tight end Rob Gronkowski hinted that he may have played his last game in the NFL.
Gronkowski, still only 28, told reporters he planned to take time to consider his future in the off-season following the loss.
Gronkowski was badly shaken by a concussion last month against Jacksonville, an incident which added to a laundry list of injuries the 6ft 6in tight end has suffered during his career.
Asked about the rumours suggesting he may retire, Gronkowski said: “I don't know how you heard that, but I'm definitely going to look at my future for sure. I'm going to sit down in the next couple of weeks and see where I'm at.”
If Gronkowski does retire, it would leave a gaping hole in the Patriots' offense.
Gronkowski is one of the favoured targets of quarterback Tom Brady.
Brady, who will be 41 when the next season gets under way, said on Sunday he had not altered his career plans in light of the loss.
The Patriots star has previously indicated he plans to play into his mid-40s, fitness permitting, even though his wife, the Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen has made it known she would like him to retire.
On Sunday, Brady said the defeat had not changed his outlook.
"I expect to be back," Brady told reporters. "It's 15 minutes after the game ended, so I would like to process this. I don't see why I wouldn't be back."
Pressed later about whether he intended to return, he added: "I certainly hope so."
Assuming he does return, Brady is likely to have to adjust to an entirely new coaching set up.
Offensive co-ordinator Josh McDaniels, with whom Brady has forged a close relationship, is expected to leave in the summer to pursue a head coaching job with the Indianapolis Colts.
McDaniels refused to entertain questions about his future on Sunday. "I'm not talking about that tonight," he said.
As well as McDaniels' expected departure, head coach Bill Belichick is also likely to have to find a new defensive co-ordinator, with Matt Patricia linked to a move as head coach of the Detroit Lions.
Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty appeared resigned to Patricia's departure. "He's given a big piece of him each year for eight years now," said McCourty. "I think that's what makes him want more."
Patricia, too, deflected questions about his future.
"Right now, it is all about the game and Philly and my disappointment in the outcome of the game tonight," said Patricia. "I just feel really bad for our guys and that we didn't put them in a situation that allowed them to be successful in the game.”
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