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Payton talks free agents, key roles after Saints playoff exit

The Saints will have to compete for the service of several 2019 starters who are among 17 other New Orleans players entering free agency.

METAIRIE, La. — Saints coach Sean Payton and players who've been in New Orleans a few years have endured a cruel kind of three-peat. 

Three seasons running have ended with playoff loses in which the decisive points were scored on the final play. The latest loss came Sunday in overtime against Minnesota. 

On Tuesday, Payton talked to press at the Saints training facility in Metairie. He expressed confidence that quarterback Drew Brees will be back. But he said the Saints will have to compete for the service of several 2019 starters who are among 17 other New Orleans players entering free agency.

The strengths that the Saints have demonstrated throughout the season were not there Sunday. They dug themselves a hole and never could get all the way out of it in a 26-20 overtime loss to the Vikings in New Orleans.

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The wildcard weekend loss ended the season and will perhaps lead to an offseason of introspection as the Saints try to figure out how to get better with an aging but still effective quarterback and a much-heralded offensive line that was pushed around for much of the game. 

With the game on the line after Wil Lutz forced overtime with a 49-yard field goal, the Vikings converted with a clutch Kirk Cousins’ 43-yard pass to Adam Thielen to the 3-yard line. The Saints made a stand on the first two plays, but then Cousins hit Kyle Rudolph for the game-decider.

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It appeared that Rudolph pushed P.J. Williams to create separation, but the officials said it was no penalty and head coach Sean Payton said he had no complaints.

"They made a lot more plays than we did," he said, perhaps realizing the Saints had made their own mess. "Tip your caps to Minnesota. They deserved to win."

Despite the misfortune of not being able to get a bye despite a 13-3 record, the Saints were served up a home game against a Vikings team that didn’t win its division and summarily laid an egg.

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