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For Saints, loss to 49ers was like being continually punched in gut

Some losses are so bad that when you get home, your dog kicks you.

The New Orleans Saints only played once this weekend, but somehow, they lost four times. They keep losing. They will wake up tomorrow and feel like they lost again. Players lose, fans lose, gamblers lose, bar owners in the French Quarter lose ... well, OK, I suppose bar-owners in the French Quarter always win. But everybody else loses, again and again.

Here are the Saints' four losses:

1. They fell behind San Francisco 17-0 in the second quarter. They have Drew Brees and all his toys on offense, so they had a bit of hope, but teams that fall behind 17-0 in road playoff games are generally finished. Saints fans had to feel like they had lost already.

2. After coming back to take a 24-23 fourth-quarter lead, the Saints let Alex Smith run 28 yards on a quarterback keeper with 2:11 remaining. This was an especially brutal way to lose, because Smith was a notorious bust before this season. He really should change his name, just to ease the pain of losing to Alex Smith (My suggestion: Alex World Peace). Also: 28 yards on a quarterback run around the left tackle? That play should not go for 28 yards in a video game set to "cheat" mode.

3. The Saints scored a touchdown 34 seconds later, but then they allowed Alex &(^^%((^%$** Smith to lead the 49ers all the way downfield, where he threw a 14-yard strike to Vernon Davis for the game-winning touchdown. This had to feel much worse than a normal loss, because Saints fans got their hopes up three times -- during the week before the game, when they came back from that 17-0 deficit and again when they took the lead in the final two minutes.

4. On Sunday afternoon, the top NFC seed, the Packers, got crushed by the New York Giants. This means that, if the Saints had just picked off that last 49ers pass -- if Alex &(^^%((^%$** Smith had played like the old Alex Smith -- they would have hosted the Giants in the NFC Championship Game.

In that scenario, the Saints would probably be the favorites to win the Super Bowl right now. They were a better regular-season team than the Giants and beat the Giants 49-24 in late November. Also, the Saints' road to a championship would be windless: Superdome for the NFC title game, and IndyDome (Lucas Oil Stadium) for the Super Bowl.

The Saints dominated teams indoors this year. They were unbeaten at home and only had one bad game. (Inexplicably, that came in St. Louis, where the Rams beat the Saints. If the Saints had beaten the 49ers, I would be researching that game right now -- calling NFL people, reading about the game, typing "how the hell did the Rams beat the Saints?" into my search engine. But the 49ers won, so never mind.)

Of course, nothing would be guaranteed for the Saints if they had won -- the actual events of this weekend proved that. But it would feel guaranteed. Right now, Saints fans would expect the Saints' second Super Bowl win in the Brees era, and they would tease themselves with questions like "Doesn't this feel like a dynasty?" And: "Isn't Brees just 33, younger than Tom Brady, and younger and healthier than Peyton Manning?" And: "Why do Frosted Flakes taste so good with bourbon?"

Instead: devastation. And many of these folks have probably been known to wager a dollar or $3,000 on their favorite team, and they were one Alex &(^^%((^%$** Smith away from cashing in on their bet last summer that the Saints would win the Super Bowl. (The odds were 16-to-1.)

It is much easier to be a Broncos fan today, because the Broncos lost 45-10, could have lost 55-10 and deserved to lose 65-10. For all the hype about their quarterback, whose name I won't even mention because I'm tired of the hype, the Broncos were never a real Super Bowl threat. Denver fans knew that. (And don't tell me the Patriots are so dominant because they whipped the Broncos. The Lions also beat the Broncos 45-10. The Packers beat the Broncos 49-23. The Bills -- THE BILLS -- beat the Broncos 40-14. The Patriots might win the Super Bowl, but let's not go overboard with the meaning of crushing the Broncos.)

These are the worst kinds of losses. But in an odd way, they are the best part of being a sports fan, because they give meaning to the whole ridiculous enterprise.

Winning only feels good because losing hurts. Doesn't that make you feel better, Saints fans? I didn't think so.

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