It had to happen sometime. For years the end of the New England Patriots' dynasty has been forecasted, often by hopeful prognosticators who have had their fill of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft and every other ring-collecting player who has molded himself in The Way.
And it happened Saturday night as the Tennessee Titans went into Foxborough and emerged victorious. The better team won and they did it the old-fashioned way: by bullying in the trenches, bowing their backs when needed, and gaining every available advantage.
This is the blueprint the Patriots followed to become the greatest dynamo in recent team sports history and it was the plan they couldn't follow again this year, no matter how much they wanted it or how magical Brady can be when it matters most.
What lies next for New England is unclear. They didn't exactly burn out or fade away. It was an odd combination of the two. The warning signs were there and more concerning than ever. The talent cupboard was bare and this time, unlike all the others, Belichick couldn't find a way to fix it.
The wheels came completely off shortly before halftime. Tennessee's defense put together a sturdy goal-line stand in a 1st-and-goal from the 1 situation and forced a field goal. A potential 10-point lead stayed a six-point game. On the next possession, Derrick Henry accounted for all 75 yards and found the end zone to give the Titans a 14-13 halftime edge.
That would prove to be enough as the mighty Brady couldn't muster a single point in the second half. His potential final throw in New England -- and perhaps the NFL -- was a pick-six that sealed an early exit.
All men age, even supermen like Brady. For all his guile, he showed limitations. They were exacerbated by a lack of a wideout capable of stretching the field, then by trouble finding a reliable pair of hands to catch his slightly slower throws.
But the problems were widespread. Henry abused what was billed as an elite defense. Julian Edelman dropped a key ball with the Pats just 30 yards from a game-winning field goal. Belichick bizarrely went for a punt block instead a return, effectively eliminating all hope.
The Titans did to New England what they've been doing all these years. And most surprising was how the Patriots responded. They looked rattled and the execution was shoddy.
The last vestiges of a juggernaut could prove to be weird. Belichick getting gamed by a former player exploiting a timing loophole. Brady misfiring on a third down and shuffling off for the punt team. These were not the roars of a proud lion. They were a dying whimper.