After 3rd Straight Playoff Heartbreak, Is Saints and Brees’ Time About to Run Out?

Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) walks off the field following an overtime loss in a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Time. It waits for nobody, doesn’t give away any more opportunities once it begins to run out, and eventually: it becomes our enemy. Yesterday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, that harsh reality of life began to hit ‘Who Dat’ fans as they watched their beloved New Orleans Saints football team lose in the NFL Playoffs for a 3rd straight post-season ⁠— after the Black and Gold picked one of the most inopportune times ever to give one of their very worst performances as a team overall.

As a result, the Saints’ poor performance allowed the heavy underdog Minnesota Vikings to emerge with a 26-20 win in overtime in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game on the game’s final play; which will send them to the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs next week at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. to face the #1 seed San Francisco 49ers.

Unfortunately for New Orleans and their super-passionate fans of the entire ‘Who Dat Nation’  however, their season is now over.

So then the question becomes: how much time does this current version of the Saints team ⁠— with a soon-to-be 41-year starting quarterback and a handful of players possibly leaving New Orleans in the next few months ahead for NFL Free Agency ⁠— have left remaining to achieve their goal of winning a Super Bowl title with Drew Brees before he retires?

Credit: Wyatt Vaughn and Nick Boulet, JRNOLA

As of now it seems likely that Brees, who is expected to return for one more and perhaps two or even three more NFL seasons, will play next year during the 2020 NFL Season. But anything beyond that, is truly anyone’s guess at this point.

New Orleans, who had finished tied with several other teams in the recently-completed 2019 NFL Season for one of the NFL’s best win-loss records at (13-3), gave a performance yesterday that left many wondering what the future now holds for a team and franchise that still appears to be one of the League’s best and truly “elite” franchises with their current roster.

However, that future is now beginning to take on an air of uncertainty, with Brees not getting any younger and now after yesterday coming off one of his most disappointing efforts as the team’s starting QB; as well as several key veteran superstars whom all are set to become unrestricted free agents — as their current contracts expire and they possibly seek to play for other teams.

Some Saints fans were quick to point a very likely offensive pass interference penalty that wasn’t called by referees on Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph‘s 4-yard TD catch on the game’s final play that gave Minnesota the eventual victory was the main reason why New Orleans lost in the NFL Playoffs for a 3rd straight year.

But the actual truth quite simply is that with the exceptions of kick returner Deonte Harris on special teams along with the offensive heroics of Taysom Hill, the whole Saints team played very poorly on both sides of the football, on offense as well as defensively.

The Saints led the NFL this past season with only a brand new league-record low 8 of takeaways, but gave it up twice yesterday on a pair of Brees turnovers (an interception along with an untimely 4th Quarter fumble).

Not helping Brees’ cause was the fact that head coach Sean Payton only chose to run the ball a total of 17 times combined between RB’s Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, while on the other side of the ball the Saints defense got gashed repeatedly in the running game by Vikings All-Pro RB Dalvin Cook.

Additionally, the defense didn’t fare much better against Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins, as they ultimately failed to generate much pressure on the much-maligned and criticized signal-caller; which gave him way too much time in the pocket and allowed him to find open receivers down the field.

Perhaps most worrisome of all, the Saints were whipped “down in the trenches” ⁠— as Minnesota’s offensive and defense lines both performed at a stellar level and dominated the Saints up front for a majority of the contest.

Bottom line: the Saints played below their standard on both sides of the football, and yesterday’s contest was one that they deserved to lose — especially in an NFL Playoff game.

“Obviously, (it was) a difficult loss”, Payton told reporters in his post-game press conference. “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. 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. Tip your hats to Minnesota; they deserved to win. It’s always difficult when it happens in the playoffs. There is no follow-up game, so you go from there.”

As it was noted prominently by the sports media afterwards: the Saints are now the first team in NFL history to have six straight NFL Playoff eliminations by one score and are only the 2nd NFL team since the Green Bay Packers (from 2013-15) to be eliminated in three straight post-seasons on the final play of the game.

Brees echoed Payton’s sentiments about the painful loss later after the head coach had spoken, a loss which left New Orleans without a chance to get to the Super Bowl for a 3rd straight year; and also making it a whole 10 years now since they won their one and only Super Bowl title following the 2009 NFL Season.

“It was a hard fought football game. We played (a) really good team today and obviously, they came to play. At the end of the day they just made more plays than we did”, Brees said. “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.”

Brees then talked about the future of the team and its roster as it’s currently constructed, and his words implied that the Saints expect to try making a few more runs at winning a Super Bowl with most of the same players that they have right now.

“That is the league we are in and the world we live in. There’s always changes and so we’re very much so starting over. I’d say that we have incredible culture here and a great foundation built. We know that there’s a stable group of guys that’ll be here for a long time so then you always spend your off-season finding other pieces, complementary pieces. Whether it be through the draft or free agency you never know how that’s going to shake out”, Brees said.

“Bottom line’s I know the environment of whoever comes in from the draft, or free agency, or whatever. I know what they’re coming into and the type of culture that we have and the locker room that we have. It is one that is fun. We work hard but we play hard and we have fun together. We love each other and this is the result. We will a lot of games and guys play for one another. We love coming to work together here in this locker room.”

Brees finally then addressed the proverbial “elephant in the room” ⁠— and his comments seemed to suggest that he will return for at least one more season. What type of team or talent that he will be playing alongside with however, might not be the same as it has been during their current stretch of success.

“I’m not making any comments on that, other than I’ve told you guys this over the last couple of years, I’ve always just taken it one year at a time and kind of reevaluate each off-season and find the things I want to get better at and move on.”

“I evaluate every season kind of the same. I look at all of the great things that we were able to accomplish. I look at how guys grew and how we grew as a team. You begin to envision the things you want to do in the off-season and the work that you want to put in. Think about how you can start rebuilding it all.”

Regardless of whether or not Brees comes back for the 2020 NFL Season, the organization and specifically General Manager Mickey Loomis and Payton, have a lot of decisions on personnel to worry about moving forward into the new year.

First and foremost, ALL THREE Saints QB’s will be Free Agents in the upcoming 2020 Free Agency signing period beginning in early March. Brees actually will count $21 million against the Black and Golds’ current salary cap, regardless if he comes back or retires.

Meanwhile, back-up #2 QB Teddy Bridgewater — who made a name for himself while leading the team to an undefeated record (5-0) while Brees was out of action with a torn thumb ligament — is expected to be the #1 rated QB in the Free Agency market, and it will cost whichever NFL team that signs him (the Saints are likely to still make him a fair offer) a substantial amount of money.

However, 3rd string QB Taysom Hill is a restricted free agent and is expected to return for another season at least, assuming of course that the team tenders him an offer as expected.

Nevertheless: several key players and current stars will be free to negotiate with other teams, which includes linebacker A.J. Klein, cornerbacks Eli Apple and P.J. Williams, strong safety Vonn Bell, defensive tackle David Onyemata, and offensive guard Andrus Peat among others.

Maintaining their current spot among the Top-5 rated teams in the League  is something that undoubtedly will become a top priority for Saints management in the upcoming weeks and months ahead.

That means continually staying competitive by upgrading the roster whenever and if at all possible; whether it be through Free Agency or such as targeting a top-caliber wide receiver coming out in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft in late April, to complement All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas (and give Brees another much-needed weapon in the passing game for the 2020 Season). An offensive guard to replace the pending free agent and injury-prone Peat could become another priority draft option, as well.

But first thing’s first: which is determining and ultimately deciding WHICH Saints players will actually be taking the field once the opening whistle blows for the 2020 NFL Season Opener in early September for the Black and Gold.

That process will begin in earnest later this month at the annual Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama; which is where the top college all-stars and NFL Draft prospects get the opportunity every year to impress the League’s team executives and professional scouts; during a series of week-long work-outs, practice drills, and then the actual bowl game itself.

Until that time, the bitter taste of yet another NFL Playoff heart-break will linger with Saints fans.

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints, YouTube

Is time about to run out on this current version of the Saints team, as well as on the brilliant and spectacular 19-year NFL career of Drew Brees, one of the GREATEST NFL QB’s to ever play the sport of Pro Football?

Soon enough, the harsh reality is that time will eventually become Brees and the Saints’ enemy — a very formidable foe that unlike any other opponent in the game of life — has never been or will be defeated.

Not ever…

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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