In the snow at Chicago (2006 season). At Candlestick Park in San Francisco (2011 season). The "Minneapolis Miracle" (2017 Season). And now add to that: the "Superdome Sorry" (2018 season). All of those descriptions are an account of how many times the New Orleans Saints have come so agonizingly close to winning another Super Bowl during what now is the beginning of the 13th year of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era.
The Saints have one Super Bowl title (2009 Season) in those 13 years, but given those all of those other times mentioned above, a compelling argument can be made that the Black and Gold could have gotten to the Super Bowl another 4 different times.
But now after the events that took place nearly some 48 hours ago, the franchise now must pick up the pieces of its shattered Super Bowl dreams, and figure out if they have enough resolve to come back and try to win it all in 2019.
Thanks to the blown "no-call" by referees in the stunning overtime loss to the Rams in the 2019 NFC Championship Game, the question now becomes: where do they from here?
Can Sunday's loss actually be used as motivation and inspiration to ultimately make a successful title run next season?
Before worrying about that, the franchise first has to deal with the aftermath of Sunday's heart-breaking finish.
The Saints deserve a lot more than just a simple "we're sorry" from the League after the controversial ending cost them a sure chance at advancing to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.
As of this moment, the NFL office still hasn't made a public statement regarding the obvious helmet-to-helmet hit and blatant pass interference by Rams CB Nickell Robey-Coleman on Saints WR Tommylee Lewis that would very likely would have sent New Orleans to its 2nd Super Bowl in franchise history.
A Washington Post story published late yesterday suggested that the League will change the rules to make pass interference calls reviewable beginning next season.
"It will be discussed at length along with additional fouls that coaches feel should be subject to review," an anonymous source from the League revealed yesterday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the current uproar from the general public over the botched call.
Additionally, the report also quoted one high-ranking official with an NFL team who stated that "there will be discussion on [replay] review of calls and non-calls."
However, any change would have to be approved by at least three-quarters of the NFL's 32 owners. The League's competition committee has been opposed in the past to making pass interference calls reviewable by replay; but with Saints head coach Sean Payton being one of the committee's members, you can bet the NFL will be forced to make a change.
The way that Sunday's game ended is a virtual DISASTER for NFL officials, since it clearly cost one of its teams (New Orleans) a berth in the Super Bowl.
The League has gotten a huge "black eye" over this latest debacle, and now they'll be doing damage control for quite some time.
Nevertheless, the Saints now have to figure out what their next order of business will be moving forward,
Their first step seemingly would be to address the QB situation and go from there.
Brees is currently entering into the final year of his latest contract extension that he signed in originally in the 2017 off-season, and the team must figure out just how much longer that the now 40-year old intends to play.
But given Brees' current physical condition and the fact that Patriots QB Tom Brady just went to his 3rd straight Super Bowl at age 41, it's evident that New Orleans still has a narrow "window of opportunity" to make another run with Brees in the next 2 seasons at the least.
In 2018, Brees led the NFL in completion percentage (74.4), passer rating (115.7), and threw for 32 touchdowns with just 5 interceptions. Brees has already stated that he plans to play in the 2019 season later in this year, and now both sides must determine just how long he wants to keep playing beyond that.
Whatever they decide will ultimately dictate their plans in the upcoming 2019 NFL Free Agency signing period, which gets underway in 8 more weeks from now, on March 13th.
Current Saints #2 QB Teddy Bridgewater, who the Saints got back in August after a trade with the New York Jets in exchange for 3rd-round pick in the upcoming draft, is now an unrestricted free agent.
The 26-old Bridgewater told New Orleans Times-Picayune / NOLA.com beat writer Luke Johnson that he isn't sure just yet if he will re-sign New Orleans and continue to sit behind Brees for another year or two, or chase the big money offers that are certain to come his way from other teams that need a starting QB (like the Jacksonville Jaguars).
“Who knows how it will all play out?” Bridgewater said. “I’m just taking it one day at a time and trying to swallow what happened yesterday. … That’s something that stings for a while. Whatever happens in the future, it’ll just happen.”
I definitely feel like I’ve overcome some major hurdles to get back to where I want to be in my career,” Bridgewater said. “I have some time this offseason to reflect on things and think about life going forward.”
Besides Bridgewater, New Orleans will have another 21 players that will be either unrestricted or restricted free agents; the most notable of them being 8th year veteran RB Mark Ingram, who if he returns will eventually become the team's all-time leading rusher.
Other notable Saints unrestricted free agents who can seek bigger and better deals are linebacker Craig Robertson, defensive tackle Tyeler Davison, slot cornerback P.J. Williams, defensive end Alex Okafor, and wide receiver Dez Bryant, who never even played a single down after he suffered a season ending torn Achilles injury on the last play of his second practice.
Then of course, they will also need to address the team needs in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft (which Saints News Network will be covering all off-season as we do every year) that they aren't able to fill via Free Agency.
The draft will be held in Nashville, Tennessee from April 25th thru the 27th, and New Orleans doesn't get to make a pick until the 62nd overall selection of Round #2, since they already have used their 1st Round pick on rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport, after a trade in last year's draft with the Green Bay Packers.
The general consensus for the Saints' biggest team needs at the moment are at tight end, wide receiver, safety, and a "swing" offensive tackle / guard.
Of those four mentioned, tight end would appear to be their top priority; especially since the free agent market at tight end is essentially void of any "immediate impact" players at the position.
Brees loves to utilize his tight ends, but over the past few seasons he simply just hasn’t had any reliable guys that he could throw to.
Former All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham is now with Green Bay, and 2016 Free Agent signee Coby Fleener was considered a "bust" by some and was eventually released last off-season after continuing to deal with lingering symptoms from a severe concussion. Additionally, last season's starter Ben Watson is now officially retired, and current back-up Josh Hill is serviceable but FAR from being an elite-caliber player at the position.
Fortunately for the Saints, this year's draft class at the tight end position is extremely deep; so getting a good one shouldn’t be a problem for the Black and Gold.
A few names to remember at the position that likely will be available with the 62nd overall pick include University of Alabama TE Irv Smith, Jr., both University of Iowa tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, and San Jose State TE Josh Oliver.
Bottom line: the Saints for the most part will have a team that in 2019 that will only need a few slight little "tweaks" here and there that need to be made, in order to make a run next season at Super Bowl LIV (54) in Miami.
For now though, there still will be the lingering emotional pain that came with Sunday's loss to the Rams; especially given the matter in which it occurred.
Will the Saints' shattered Super Bowl dream inspire them to "win it all" next season?
In the next several months that are still to come, you'd have to imagine that their primary focus certainly will be to achieve that goal. And hopefully this time around, it won't end up as another one of the notable "heart-breaks", in team Playoff history....