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Saints near Super anniversary in unwanted way

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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MOBILE, Ala. -- The bleachers where Saints coach Sean Payton and the rest of his staff sat Tuesday morning probably felt colder than to any other group of coaches watching Senior Bowl activities at Ladd Peebles Stadium.

That's because Payton and his staff never sat in those bleachers last season. At this stage in January of 2010, one more game sat in front of the Saints coaches. Not a group of college football players.

Gregg Williams is still stinging over the way his defense played in Seattle. (Getty Images)  
Gregg Williams is still stinging over the way his defense played in Seattle. (Getty Images)  
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had a blunt summary of his feelings over being at the annual football meat market: "I'm really pissed that I'm sitting here at the Senior Bowl. Because you know that we had an off day. Had we not had that day ..."

Yet that day indeed happened, and the 7-9 Seahawks bounced the reigning Super Bowl champs from the postseason. The fact represents the harshest of realities for the Saints, as they entered the offseason several weeks earlier than a year ago. New Orleans' storied Super Bowl run is but a piece of history now.

And it has Williams in a bad mood.

"The people in my condo were running up and down the hallways to get away from me because I'm screaming because we're not playing. ... (Sunday) I was watching television and I was dog cussing every coordinator, every officials call," Williams said. "Phil Simms and Troy Aikman, they were getting dog-cussed because they were saying ignorant things.

"They're both friends of mine and I'm thinking, 'You both played?' And so I'm screaming and yelling at the TV."

Blake Williams, Gregg's son and Saints assistant coach, then chimed in, "That's because we're not playing."

The thing about the ever-confident Gregg Williams is that he blames himself. He only watched Marshawn Lynch's run for the ages once, when grading film. "Every time it comes on TV I turn the channel," Williams said.

It's like the Titans' Kevin Dyson being tackled at the 1-yard line to end Super Bowl XXXIV for Williams, who was defensive coordinator in Tennessee at the time.

Williams can't let go.

"Sean gave everybody a week off," Williams said. "I was at the office every single day. This is the first day I haven't been in the office since the season was over. Saturdays, Sundays, all day long. Before New England got eliminated, I was grabbing film of them thinking we're going to catch them in the playoffs next year. I was looking at Green Bay film knowing that we play them next year. ... I don't shut it off very well. I never have shut it off very well."

Payton has taken a bit of a calmer approach. He's not going to let go, but he has allowed himself to step back to figure out just how to reach the top of Lombardi mountain once again.

"When you finish with a tough game like that (Seattle), I think it's always wise to step back from it and understand it was one game," Payton said. "It was disappointing. It was a playoff game. But, as we go through the process of going through all the evaluations that take place, all the off-season studies, I think it's important you spend some time. I think there were a lot of good things, a lot of positives.

"Like I said before, I like this locker room a lot. There were a lot of things they were able to accomplish. We have a high bar, certainly a high standard of what our goals are. I think that time is important, when it comes to any aspect of what you're doing, whether it's scheme evaluation, play evaluation, staff evaluation, all those aspects are critical to our program. We take them very seriously. I think it's always wiser to distance yourself from the last game played."

Payton talked on several occasions before and throughout the 2010 season about the advice he sought in how to handle the tag of "defending Super Bowl champs." He's now become one of those mentors other coaches will look to in avoiding those post-championship pitfalls.

"(The players) know how to win and so coming off a successful season as successful as a year ago was, their goal and our goal was to turn the page, move forward and work towards that process again," Payton said. "And again it ended short in the playoffs, but I'm confident in that group of guys and obviously with every season there's change. That's the most important aspect of your team, the locker room and your leadership there."

The Saints locker room may not be the same, though, once the players are let back in the doors after the looming lockout. A Super Bowl ring from the 2009 season won't pay the bills. Many Saints players are likely thinking it's time to get paid.

Drew Brees has said now is the time to talk about a long-term contract extension. Potential free agents such as Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore, Jermon Bushrod and Roman Harper will be looking for a paycheck first and foremost, as they already have rings. The Saints made guard Jahri Evans the highest paid guard in NFL history after last season and potential restricted free agent Carl Nicks could be due a hefty deal now that he's a Pro Bowler. Players like Reggie Bush and Jeremy Shockey could easily be asked to take pay cuts in 2011.

Most recently, the Saints lost top-flight assistant coach Dennis Allen on Monday night as he accepted the Broncos defensive coordinator job while in Mobile. Previously, Williams heavily pondered taking an interview for Denver's head coaching gig. With back-to-back double-digit win seasons including the Super Bowl win, assistants are using the Saints' success to springboard into other positions as well.

Payton's toughest coaching job didn't come in 2010. Falling short of a repeat championship is nearly commonplace and expected. The tougher task will come in 2011, now that the magic and euphoria of a Super Bowl win has all but evaporated.

And any of those future trips to the Ladd Peebles Stadium bleachers will be just like a seat in the coldest of football hells to the coaches who not so long ago tasted that heavenly Super Bowl greatness.

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