NEW ORLEANS — Robert Kraft feels your pain, Patriots fans. Literally.
Meeting with a small group of reporters on Friday after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s annual Super Bowl news conference, the Patriots owner was asked how long it took him to get over New England’s loss to Baltimore in the AFC Championship game.
“It’s hanging right here, in the pit of the stomach,” he said. “I know a lot of our fans feel it because I’ve gotten so much mail. I’ve gotten that kind of mail from a lot of ‘sideline coaches,’ comments with suggestions.
“Believe me, I feel their pain. You have this expectation and you’re doing so well and — boom — it’s over.’’
The loss to the Ravens was the seventh AFC Championship game appearance for New England of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era; though they haven’t raised the Lombardi Trophy since the 2004 season, Kraft still believes in his franchise leaders.
“They’re so special. Bill and Tom together have proven what they can do,” Kraft said. “I personally believe they’re both still the best at what they do, so that gives us a great chance every year, as long as Tommy’s healthy, and he takes great care of himself.
“One of the nice things is, we’re in the bottom 25 percent age-wise. I think our team had more youth this year than it’s been in a long time, and hopefully we do a good job in the draft. I like this team a lot that we have.”
There has been a great deal of talk about the window closing for the Patriots because of Brady, who will turn 36 during training camp. Brady is on the record as wanting to play until he’s 40, and right now Kraft does not see any issues with the quarterback’s play.
“I think he had a remarkable year this year and I think we look at each year as it happens. I’d love him to be here as long as he’s productive and feels he wants to play,” Kraft said.
The four-year contract extension Brady signed before the 2011 season runs through 2014. Kraft’s comment that he would want Brady here “as long as he’s productive” left the door open for a possible split in the future, if Brady wants to keep playing.
“That’s his choice, but I surely would never like to see that happen,” Kraft said.
Wes Welker’s future was another topic. The receiver played the 2012 season under the franchise tag, but tagging him again in 2013 would cost the Patriots $11.4 million, all of which would count against the salary cap.
Kraft wants Welker to stay, but repeated a familiar mantra.
“I’d love him to be around. He’s a great guy. Like I said all along, it takes two sides to make a transaction, and then we have to manage the lawyers and the agents, that they don’t mess it up,” Kraft said. “I think Wes wants to be with us and we want him here. It’s just a matter of whether both sides can be intelligent.”Shalise Manza Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.