METAIRIE, La. — Next month will mark the 10th anniversary of Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints winning Super Bowl XLIV. If Brees & Co. wish to win another, what better place than South Florida, the site of the victory following the 2009 season?
But between the Saints' lone Lombardi Trophy and its hypothetical twin has been a decade of playoff woes. Sure, other teams have had it far worse than going 100-60 in the past decade just to have their hearts ripped out in January by missed calls or blown tackles or a man-made earthquake.
Here at the Saints practice facility this week, the ghosts of playoff past loom as the third-seeded Saints face the Vikings in a rematch of a game that ended in the Minnesota Miracle.
"The only thing I would say about it is that we have a lot of guys on this team that were here for those experiences," quarterback Drew Brees said this week. "I think it says a lot about our group to be able to take some of those circumstances and some of those unfortunate things and be able to turn that into something positive and use that as fuel, as a way to just bring us closer together and really fight through that adversity to bring out the best in all of us."
Before we get to that blown Marcus Williams tackle or even the non-pass interference call, go back to the 2010 season as the wild-card Saints traveled to Seattle to face the NFC West champs in the wild-card round. New Orleans trailed 34-30 in the fourth quarter when Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard rush created what's known today as the BeastQuake and put the game out of reach.
The next season, the Saints went 13-3 but didn't secure a first-round bye thanks to a competitive NFC. In the divisional round in San Francisco, the Saints led 32-29 inside the 2-minute warning when Vernon Davis caught the game-winning touchdown pass with 9 seconds left in the game.
Seattle took care of New Orleans 23-15 in the 2013 playoffs in a game that was never that competitive. Yet of the five postseason exits in the previous decade, the one-possession loss was the least competitive.
"if you look at my entire career," defensive end Cam Jordan told me Thursday, "in 2011 we were in premier position to win everything and then to lose to San Francisco who then played the Giants, who we destroyed that same year. You talk about what happened in 2013 when I feel we had a phenomenal defense and ended up losing that. And you talk about the way we've lost the last two years…"
By now you know what happened. Two years ago in the playoffs, Case Keenum's pass to Stefon Diggs at the end of regulation was completed and then-rookie safety Marcus Williams whiffed on the tackle. Diggs ran into the end zone with no time remaining to win 29-24.
And last year, a Brees pass intended for Tommylee Lewis went incomplete after Nickell Robey-Coleman blew up Lewis while the ball was in flight. As you, Saints fans, the NFL and Louisiana courts of law know, the play was not flagged for pass interference. The NFC title game eventually went to overtime and the Rams won.
Williams hasn't talked much about the Minnesota Miracle since the night of. In the days leading up to last year's rematch against the Vikings, he declined to answer any questions about it. So far this week he hasn't spoken about it as he continues to heal from an injured groin.
And Jordan says the team put the Rams loss in the rearview as soon as training camp began. That bitterness wasn't going to help them move forward in 2019.
"I mean, at this point, all we're doing is wasting our time crying about the call," third-year cornerback Marshon Lattimore told me. "It's over with. We can't do nothing about it. It's no point to keep on crying about the same thing. Nothing's going to change. Nobody's really worried about."
Brees said for this team to come back after the past two postseason losses and still be in a position for the ultimate goal is a testament to the team's mettle. Jordan agrees.
"It's all about life lessons and how we can grow from and respond to them," Jordan says. "Our defense, in terms of starters, is pretty much still intact from the last two postseason runs. We have the experience and knowledge to overcome a lot of things that will come at us."
Interestingly enough, the third-seeded Saints are just the third team since the league expanded the playoffs in 1990 to go 13-3 and not receive a first-round bye. The 1999 Titans and the aforementioned 2011 Saints are the other two teams. So just another bit of bad postseason luck for these Saints.
A year after the blown call, two years after the Miracle and after a whole decade of playoff aches that include two losses in the final 10 seconds of the game, the Saints understand they have to play every bit of the 60 minutes.
"We're not going to put ourselves in that position. That's it," Lattimore says. "Of course we're going to have those games but try our best not to leave it up to the refs. Just do what we have to do so it doesn't happen again.
It's a learning experience and nothing to cry about. It's a whole new season. It is what it is. We've just got to learn from it."