There are a lot of NFL fan bases that would trade their teams’ resumes for what the New Orleans Saints have done the past few generations.
But their recent playoff losses have cut in a deep, painful way.
Two years ago, it was the Minneapolis Miracle. Last year, it was the Nickell Robey-Coleman no-call game. And in Sunday’s wild-card loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the Saints had the ball at the end of regulation with a chance to win before falling in overtime.
The echoes of last year could still be heard in the Superdome.
There were some questionable game-management decisions by head coach Sean Payton. There were some shortcomings by Drew Brees in a building he long dominated in. There was a late drive where the Saints’ defense came up short. And yes, there was a questionable no-call at the game's conclusion, too.
The latter came on Kirk Cousins’ game-winning TD pass on which it appeared Kyle Rudolph might have gained an advantage by pushing off on Saints safety Marcus Williams. (Yes, the same safety who was victimized by the Vikings on Stefon Diggs’ playoff game-winner in Minnesota.)
The Saints led 10-3 in the first half, but allowed two scores in the final three minutes of the second quarter. (The Saints also missed a field goal right before halftime.) Then the Vikings took control in the third quarter, leading by 10 points into the fourth, but the Saints had every chance to win this game, especially thanks to the heroics of Taysom Hill.
But how Payton handled the final minutes of this game is worth dissecting. After a Cameron Jordan sack, Cousins hit the turf with about 2:47 left in regulation. The Saints had one timeout left. Payton had called his second timeout on the play before but swallowed his last one and left the clock drip down.
The Vikings punted just on the other side of the 2:00 warning, and that game stoppage was eliminated on Deonte Harris’ return. The Saints’ next offensive play came with 1:55 on the clock. That’s more than 50 seconds of game clock that just evaporated. Brees might have been able to use those down three with the ball, you’d figure.
Payton ended up eating one additional timeout in each half, it would turn out. The Saints drove to the Vikings’ 26-yard line with 21 seconds remaining, but their false start not only cost them 5 yards — it also cost them 10 seconds with the runoff that incurs on such a call.
Despite the Vikings’ defense playing in a soft shell, the Saints chose to match their passivity. They never thought touchdown and the win in regulation. They played for overtime. Wil Lutz, who missed a 43-yarder at the end of the first half, made the 49-yard to get them to OT. But that felt awfully risky to rely on that kick.
In overtime, the defense — which was on the field for nearly 37 game minutes — let Cousins and the Vikings drive 75 yards in nine plays and end the game. Brees never got the ball back in overtime.
Payton admitted that he hid in his basement after last year’s playoff loss. Brees has said that the previous loss to the Vikings was one of the most gutting of his NFL career. This one might not have quite the same shocking sting as the other two, but it falls right in line with the heartbreaking disappointment this franchise has come to know all too well in recent postseasons.
And really, it goes back even farther ...
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