MOBILE, Ala. — It’s not that Saints general manager Mickey Loomis is conflicted about the 2013 season.
He realizes the 12-6 record and the road playoff victory are something to be proud of in a league in which both are exceedingly difficult to do.
It’s more that expectations for a franchise once known for mediocrity are now regularly to go deeper into the postseason than just the divisional round of the playoffs.
“A lot of real good things … to feel good about,” Loomis said from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. “And yet it wasn’t a great year because we’re not in the Super Bowl. And that’s just where we’re at as a program. We expect and want, you know we want to play in that game and we want to win it. And we had a chance.”
That belief meshes with coach Sean Payton’s, who a week earlier delivered a similar message to the players during exit interviews.
“The disappointment comes from our expectation level of (not) getting to that Championship game and then getting to the Super Bowl,” Payton said. “I thought they handled a lot of things this year coming off everything a year ago, the injuries, none of these things were ever discussed as excuses. But just any time we had a tough setback, tough losses, the response the next week – they made it very not only enjoyable, but stimulating to coach because we were always on to the next challenge.”
The positives, ultimately, will be remembered in the long run.
Quarterback Drew Brees threw for his third-straight 5,000-yard season and 39 regular season touchdowns. The Saints went 8-0 at home for the second time in three seasons.
And they won the aforementioned road playoff game, a 26-24 win over Philadelphia that became the franchise’s first-ever true road postseason victory.
Then there’s the defense, which went from 32nd in the NFL while allowing a league record for most yards in a season to the fourth-best unit, giving up 140 yards less per game.
“Obviously, we felt like we could improve our defense. There weren’t a lot of places to go but up there,” Loomis said, adding, “I felt like, ‘Hey, this might suit us better.’ ”
It certainly suited the Saints, even when the team continued to lose projected starters to season-ending injuries.
Seven players who either were slated to start in the preseason or started at least half of the team’s games missed a combined 83 games this year. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman (torn pectoral muscle) and outside linebackers Will Smith (torn ACL) and Victor Butler (torn ACL) all missed 18 games, playoffs included.
Meanwhile, linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee) missed 17 games, cornerback Jabari Greer (torn ACL) sat out eight, safety Kenny Vaccaro (broken fibula) missed three and linebacker Parys Haralson (torn pectoral muscle) was out for the final game.
Now, however, Loomis is moving on. Among his first tasks was to take in the Senior Bowl, an annual event where the nation’s top collegiate senior players play in a game coached by two NFL staffs.
He also has the task of working on salary cap issues, something key to New Orleans’ future success as it is over the projected cap by nearly $12 million and has to sign free agents, including tight end Jimmy Graham.
That at least will keep him from thinking about what could have been this season.
“I guess when you keep busy you don’t think about it as much,” Loomis said.
(Correction: The story originally said 92 games missed.)