INDIANAPOLIS — Less than an hour after losing the Super Bowl again, Tom Brady slowly slipped on his dark vest and suit jacket and walked to the postgame podium.
The next time he puts on his New England Patriots uniform, he hopes to start another, more successful, run toward the NFL championship.
“I’ll keep coming to this game and keep trying,” the quarterback said. “I’d rather come to this game and lose than not get here.”
He and the Patriots have been there five times in the last 11 years. But their 21-17 loss on Sunday night was their second straight to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
Brady won his first 10 postseason games — and three Super Bowls — with the Patriots. Since then they’re 6-6 in the postseason with a seven-year drought since their last championship.
Some of the biggest issues facing the Patriots this offseason is whether to re-sign Wes Welker, who to take with their two draft choices in the first round and two in the second and how to build a mediocre defense and an inconsistent running game.
Welker led the NFL with 122 receptions but dropped a pass, a bit off target, with about four minutes left that would have put the Patriots at about the Giants 20-yard line with a 17-15 lead. Team owner Robert Kraft wants him back and Brady said, “He’s a phenomenal player and teammate and I love that guy.”
Welker is likely to return.
He would have a different offensive coordinator. Josh McDaniels, who held that position from 2006-08, rejoined the team as an offensive assistant for the playoffs after serving in that spot with the St. Louis Rams. He replaces Bill O’Brien, who left to succeed Joe Paterno as head coach at Penn State.
More immediately, Belichick will focus on the NFL Scouting Combine for college players from Feb. 22-28 at Lucas Oil Stadium, site of Sunday’s loss. With four picks in the top two rounds, barring trades, the Patriots could have another solid draft.
In 2008 they added linebacker Jerod Mayo. The next year they drafted safety Patrick Chung, tackle Sebastian Vollmer and wide receiver Julian Edelman. In 2010, they had a terrific draft with cornerback Devin McCourty, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, linebacker Brandon Spikes and punter Zoltan Mesko.
And in 2011, they drafted tackle Nate Solder and promising running back Stevan Ridley.
“The combine is in two and a half weeks,” coach Bill Belichick said Monday after returning to Foxborough, Mass. “I’m sure there will be (a) lot of things on the agenda between now and then so we’ll just take them as they come. For right now, we’re just kind of collecting our thoughts and we’ll figure it out in due course.”
The Patriots didn’t look like Super Bowl contenders in the first half of the season. They went 5-3 and had given up the most yards in the NFL at midseason.
Then they won their next eight games, plus two in the playoffs, as Gronkowski turned into an All-Pro and the defense improved.
But they barely got past the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship game, winning 23-20 as rookie free agent Sterling Moore stripped a potential touchdown pass from the hands of Lee Evans in the end zone. Two plays later, Billy Cundiff hooked a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds left.
That got the Patriots to the Super Bowl where Brady, who has struggled in playoff games the past three seasons, was outplayed by Eli Manning.
“We always have confidence in our quarterback,” Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch said.
But Brady needs a deep threat to open up the field. And he needs a more productive running game than BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead provide. Ridley, who showed flashes of power and speed in limited playing time, gained 441 yards in 87 carries, a team-best average of 5.1.
The defense needs the most work.
Its pass rush was shaky, especially after sacks leader Andre Carter suffered a season-ending quadriceps injury in the 14th game. The linebacking was solid. But the secondary never got stabilized because of injuries and poor play. Belichick brought in and cut several free agents. He even used McCourty, whose play dropped off after he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season, at safety.
Chung, the signal-caller in the secondary, is determined that the defense will improve.
“We fought hard” in the Super Bowl, he said. “We know the taste and we don’t like the taste, so we’re going to keep working (this) offseason to try to get back here next year.”
Guard Logan Mankins, 0-2 in Super Bowls, has the same goal.
“I’ve lost a lot of games in my career, but nothing hurts like losing the Super Bowl,” he said. “It’s pretty gut-wrenching.”