Bradley Handwerger / Eyewitness Sports
SEATTLE ― Drew Brees stood at his locker, a lone wolf holding the final box score from Saturday’s NFC Wild Card game at Seattle.
He stared alone, dissecting the statistics and delving through the minutiae the only way he knows how.
And then he shook his head.
Over on the opposite side of the locker room, linebacker Marvin Mitchell sat in front of his locker, full pads still on, Saints fleur-de-lis still covering them.
He stared at the ground, never looking up to see who was around him and who wasn’t.
Manifest destiny this was not; Saints Nation was not trending West.
The Seattle Seahawks, the only non-strike team with a losing record to win a division, knocked the reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints out of the playoffs 41-36.
Words were tough to come by in the post-game locker room for those who just had their hearts and souls ripped from them in the harshest of ways.
Well, mostly tough. Running back Reggie Bush found some.
“Shocking. Embarrassing. Tough,” he said. “All that.”
The Saints entered the playoff as the largest road favorites in the league’s history at 10½ points. That means they also made history by becoming the largest road favorites to lose in the playoffs.
A year after shaking a franchise-old monkey off its back by winning the Super Bowl, the Saints couldn’t take down another one a year later – New Orleans is now 0-4 on the road in the playoffs.
Instead of going into the offseason with momentum and positive energy, the Saints now go in with questions.
Lots of them.
The Saints put five running backs on injured reserve this season and lost two more in the playoff loss. Head coach Sean Payton and the coaching staff will have to decide on a couple of things – what will they do with the brittle Reggie Bush and his exorbitant salary and is it time to invest in a true running back with a high draft pick?
New Orleans got no pressure from its front four against Seattle. Will Smith and Alex Brown are starting defensive ends, but their backups are not. Additionally, Remi Ayodele and Sedrick Ellis disappeared in the loss to the Seahawks. The defensive line will have to be addressed.
Kick and punt return were an issue all season. While Courtney Roby has ability, his longest return of the season was 39 yards and he went on IR towards the end of the season. Bush was never a threat this season on punt return and Lance Moore is more likely to call fair catch than to catch positive yards.
But there will be plenty of time now to look at how to fix the problems.
Right now, the Saints’ players have to learn how to deal with this pain.
“It’s no fun to lose in the first round, obviously, because we had high aspirations and expectations for this team,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “As we looked at the playoff picture we just felt like, hey, we’re as good as anybody.”
They were as good anybody.
On Saturday, they weren’t the better team.
Seattle played more relaxed and like a team that had nothing to lose.
The fans, known locally as the 12th Man, made it hard for the Saints, culling them into three false starts.
The Saints secondary couldn’t figure out how to keep Seattle’s receivers from getting into the end zone and when they finally did, the defense couldn’t figure out how to stop the run.
In the end, while the Saints hit several of their goals – following a 13-3 season with an 11-5 on and making the playoffs in back-to-back years – they fell short of the most important one and that was to get back to the Super Bowl.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to, which was win another Super Bowl,” Saints safety Roman Harper said. “I don’t really care about anything else we accomplished this year. The main goal was to win it again and we didn’t do that so it’s a failure. We’ve got to be able to bounce back from that and try to go get another one.”
And that’s the silver lining.
The Saints should return enough talent in 2011, whenever that season might start, to make another run at it.