This one hurts, maybe even worse than last year when the Minnesota Miracle, a last-ditch effort by a scrambling team, sent the Boys in Black and Gold back home from the playoffs to watch the Super Bowl rather than play in it. This year had all the markings of a team of destiny, not a team of heartbreak.
Up until yesterday, recent history was in the Saints favor. No defending home team had lost the defense of their ticket to the big game in a long time. And with the boisterous, supportive and faithful crowd inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome that was little doubt our Domefield Advantage – the highest winning percentage in the NFL for post-season play – would act as a 12th man on the field and help send our team to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII.
But yesterday two teams playing at home improbably fell in the Championship Series and one of them was our Saints.
It’s true there was an egregious non-call by officials that would have put us in position to win the game late in the contest. We could have run out the clock and gone on to win had a flag been thrown by any of the referees. The NFL office admitted their officials had blown this one in a call initiated by an irate Saints Head Coach Sean Payton.
But one truth remains. While games are clearly lost on the field by officials, they make mistakes too. And as much as we hate to admit it, games are won on the field by the players who write their own plays and don’t depend on officials to determine the outcome.
Had the Saints capitalized on two red zone trips earlier in the first half, they would have put the game away so that the Rams could not possibly have caught up. There were missed opportunities where the team failed to generate the momentum needed to carry the day. We even won the toss in overtime, an advantage that the AFC’s New England Patriots used to re-punch their ticket to the NFL Championship for the third straight year.
That said, the Saints never trailed the entire game and only lost the contest on a 57-yard kick that might have reminded many of the Garrett Hartley kick that made the Saints the NFC Champions and sent them on to win Super Bowl XLIV in Miami against the Indianapolis Colts.
So, yeah. This one hurts on so many fronts. We had the recent history and statistics that said the Saints couldn’t lose with veterans quarterback Drew Brees and Coach Payton calling the shots in the Superdome. Yet, the Rams with a young quarterback working under the most difficult of challenges stayed in the game after trailing 13-0 and staged a comeback with a trick fake kick play that upstart Coach Sean McVay seemed to steal from the Saints coach’s playbook from last week’s contest against the Philadelphia Eagles.
It will take some time for this defeat to wear off. If we can take some solace, it’s that we played with heart and confidence and had the bearing of true champions, even after the victory was snatched away in overtime. We should be proud of all that our team accomplished this year and have nothing to be ashamed of when all is said and done.
Wouldn’t we have like to have shown our colors in the Georgia Dome? Yes, we would. But, many of our team members will represent us well in the Pro Bowl in Hawaii this next Sunday, an acknowledgment of the tremendous accomplishments of many of our Saints this past year. Included in that number is future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, who should return next year and, if healthy, could break New Orleans native Peyton Manning’s record of touchdowns thrown by an NFL quarterback.
But let’s not get to that just yet. We need to nurse our wounds and this postseason will be a very long one for Saints fans. With the lack of draft choices already dealt away and an impending salary cap that will stop some top-rated players from returning in the fall as Saints, this will take a long time to overcome and we will not forget this one…ever.