There is no consolation prize for the New Orleans Saints despite finishing the season at 13-3 and earning their third straight NFC South title. No matter how you slice it, the season ended too soon and the team fell short of their ultimate goal, a Lombardi Trophy. On paper, the Saints were the better team, and they were heavily favored entering the game. However, despite a controversial ending, Sean Payton and his squad were just outplayed and played uncharacteristically on Sunday.
"I felt, really, at the end of the day, that they made a few more plays, enough more plays than we did. It took us a while offensively to get going," Sean Payton said in his postgame press conference.
"I think that they did a handful of things to, kind of hinder us in the running game. We finally gained a little bit of momentum in the second half. I thought that defensively we held up," Payton added.
The offensive line had major holes in it, as Drew Brees was under constant pressure and was sacked three times. Andrus Peat was victimized a lot, and the Saints couldn't recover in between possessions. Brees also made a bad decision at the end of the first half, throwing to Ted Ginn Jr. in double coverage. The worst part of that play was that Brees hurried the team up to the line prior to the two-minute warning, and it was almost identical to how the Eagles-Saints playoff game started a season ago. Fast forward to the second half, and Brees said a wide receiver didn't run the right route due to some miscommunication, which forced him to improvise and led to a costly fumble.
“It was crushing for us. We didn’t play our best game and I didn’t play my best game. Collectively, we just didn’t get it done. I wish we would have had a better game today," said Ryan Ramczyk in the locker room.
The defense overcame a sluggish start and played great down the stretch, putting the Saints offense in a position to win and score. However, when you peel back the layers, they were on the field for a total of 79 snaps (9 in overtime). That just doesn't bode well for any team, especially when you lose someone like Marshon Lattimore on the overtime drive. Credit the Vikings, they immediately took advantage of it.
"We had larger dreams than this game. The season we put together had us poised to make a run through the playoffs," Cam Jordan said after the game.
Since Week 11, the Saints were averaging 36.2 points per game. Prior to Sunday, they were averaging 40 points per game in their last four. The Vikings employed a formula similar to what the Atlanta Falcons did en route to a 26-9 upset in Week 10. Danielle Hunter spoke to this during locker room interviews, saying that they decided to attack the interior offensive line because of the strength of both Saints tackles (Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead). They forced five total Thomas Morstead punts, as New Orleans finished out 4-of-11 (36.3 percent) on third down.
Drew Brees put things in great perspective after the loss, saying, "I loved the way that we fought in the fourth quarter, and we really didn’t play our best football until that point. We put together some good drives during that time and we put ourselves in position to win, but unfortunately, they just made a few more plays than we did."
Three straight strong regular season campaigns finish with three straight disappointing playoff finishes, and the Saints hourglass is running out to win with their current core. While their regular seasons have been exciting, they will need to exorcise some major demons to try and get over the hump in 2020.