The game is over. The season has ended. The dust has settled. For the 2017 New Orleans Saints and their fans, the wounds are fresh and the heartbreak is real. It’s easy now to look back at a few key moments and think about what could have been, but let’s take a second to pause, take a deep breath, and remember why we’re so proud to call ourselves members of the Who Dat Nation.
We have some of the best fans in the world
When the Atlanta Falcons blew the biggest lead in Super Bowl history after leading 28-3 in the 3rd Quarter (#NeverForget), you can imagine that the team was morally crushed. When they showed up back in Atlanta Monday afternoon, what they saw there had to been even more demoralizing. Only roughly 25 (FYI: the Falcons blew a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl) fans were there to greet their team and show their support for the Falcons.
The @AtlantaFalcons had a small crowd of people to greet them as they arrived back in Flowery Branch. pic.twitter.com/FNbT0wrPoM— Jason Durden (@JasonDurdenWSB) February 6, 2017
While the Saints didn’t give up the largest lead in Super Bowl history, Marcus Williams became a scapegoat for a lot of fans and media as his “gaffe” cost the Saints a trip to the Conference Championship Game. Not to the same degree as Atlanta, but that moment will live on for a lot of the football world as well, and was a gut-punch for Saints fans around the world.
But when the Saints team arrived back to New Orleans in the wee hours of Monday morning, they were greeted by a crowd of fans there to show their support for a great season and the team’s all-out effort.
Thanks to the #Saints fans that welcomed us home at 1 am at the airport! Your support means everything #LoveTheSaints pic.twitter.com/OHOtU91Nj7— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) January 15, 2018
To be honest, with no exaggeration, that “Love You, Marcus” sign is absolutely wonderful.
Marcus Williams is a class-act
To continue on with Marcus Williams, you have to remember that the TWENTY-ONE YEAR OLD defensive back is a ROOKIE playing in his FIRST ROAD PLAYOFF GAME of his career. He just made what will be a play that could end up haunting him for the rest of his life, and you have to know that he knows it. He feels like he single-handedly let down his teammates, his coaches, and the fans (even though without his interception in the 3rd quarter, the Saints aren’t likely in the game to begin with).
And after the game, with tears swelling up in his eyes, he owns up to the play.
Marcus Williams on missed tackle on game-winning 61 yard TD. #NOvsMIN pic.twitter.com/L8Z1aI6Dey— The Sports Junky (@TheSportsJunky1) January 15, 2018
Not every NFL player is able to own up to a mistake after the biggest lost in their career. Some veteran players aren’t able to face the music after not making a key play to bring a Championship home. And this 21 year old rookie, with a microphone in his face, accepted what happened. He had a great 2017 season, and he knows it will be forever overshadowed by this one play. He handled better than almost every 21 year old on the planet ever could.
This team has heart
Down 0-2 to start the season, the Saints came roaring back and rattled off an impressive win streak. Down 17 points on the road in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, the Saints came storming back to take the lead late. Thomas Morstead played with broken ribs. Terron Armstead played on one leg. The Saints were down roughly 15 starters on all three sides of the ball (offense, defense and special teams) with a combination of injured inactives and players on Injured Reserve.
Since 2007, only 10.8% of NFL teams to start 0-2 make the playoffs. On top of that, the Saints play in a division that houses the 2016 and 2015 NFC Champions and a surging Buccaneers squad that looked poised to make things interested before the season started. The Saints were never supposed to go this far. They were never supposed to win the division. They weren’t healthy enough to make a run late in the season. They weren’t talented enough to remain competitive with the Vikings in Minnesota.
And yet, the Saints didn’t let the negativity affect them like it can other players. The Saints just went about their business and proved nay-sayers wrong all season. It ended up not quite being enough, but they weren’t supposed to make it as far as they did in the first place.
And they will be back
The Panthers said it after 2015. The Falcons said it after 2016. And while the Saints didn’t lose a Super Bowl like their division rivals, they still believe they’ll be right back in the thick of things next season.
The Saints have very few free agents this offseason with Drew Brees as the biggest name, but he’s expected to re-sign with the team. The Saints will have, for one of the first times in recent memory, more salary cap space and draft picks than holes to fill for the 2018 season. The core of the New Orleans Saints, both on offense and defense, is young and talented. Michael Thomas, Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Marshon Lattimore, Cam Jordan, Marcus Williams... The Saints have a core group of players to build around for a long time.
The Saints were historically unlucky with the amount of injuries they faced and were able to overcome. Over 20 different players landed on Injured Reserve for the team this year. Comparing the roster that started the game in Minnesota to what a healthy Saints team could have looked like, just getting players back and healthy for 2018 will be huge.
Drew Brees turns 39 years old today, but he showed late in the game against Minnesota that he still has at least one more run in him.
The 2011 Ravens lost the AFC Championship game, and then went on to win the Super Bowl in 2012. The 2012 Seahawks lost in the divisional round on the road to Atlanta. They used that as motivation to win the Super Bowl in 2013. The 2013 Patriots lost in the AFC Championship, and then went on to win the Super Bowl in 2014. The 2014 Broncos lost in the divisional round to Indianapolis, and then used that to go on to win the Super Bowl in 2015. And the 2015 Patriots lost in the AFC Championship to the Broncos only to come back and beat the Falcons for the 2016 title.
Seven out of the last eight Super Bowl winners dating back to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV were eliminated in the playoffs the year before in the divisional round or later. Yes, the Saints lost a rough road playoff game in 2017. But they’ll be back in 2018.
Another year for these young players to grow and get better around the veteran leadership of Drew Brees and Sean Payton should scare the NFL. You haven’t heard the last of these Saints. And Saints fans: time to look forward, not behind. A Super Bowl isn’t possible for the 2017 season, but it’s squarely in our sights for 2018.
Thank-you, Saints, for a great season. Who Dat.