METAIRIE, La. -- Cameron Jordan's cap said it all Wednesday: “Saints vs. everybody.”
The New Orleans Saints defensive end didn’t elaborate on the meaning, but he didn’t have to. No team has experienced more gut-wrenching playoff defeats over the past decade -- each of New Orleans' five exits more crushing than the last.
The past two years have been especially devastating, with the “Minneapolis Miracle” followed by the missed pass interference call in the NFC Championship Game.
So it’s the Saints vs. the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday (1:05 p.m., Fox). It’s the Saints vs. the officials. It’s the Saints vs. just plain dumb luck that has them sitting here as the NFC’s No. 3 seed despite a 13-3 record. (That has happened only three times since the NFL went to a 12-team playoff format it 1990. It has now happened twice to the Saints in nine years.)
“Saints vs. everybody,” Jordan said playfully three times in a row in response to a question -- though he did also give a serious answer about how the past two defeats have shaped this team’s mindset.
“If anything, it adds a chip on our shoulders. It adds a little bit more of a determination factor,” Jordan said. “You have to want it each and every time you take the field. You’ve only got so many opportunities.”
“Third time’s a charm. It has to be,” added Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who took plenty of satisfaction from the fact that so many people doubted New Orleans’ ability to get back to this point.
“A lot of people before this year talking about [how we would be] worried about the losses too much, we wasn’t going to be back, and we sitting at 13-3,” Lattimore said. “I said from the beginning, ‘It’s a loss, we can’t do anything about it, we over it now.' I just know what type of team we’ve got, nobody really holds their heads down.”
The Saints’ resilience has been remarkable. Not only did they bounce back from the NFC title game, but they also went 5-0 when quarterback Drew Brees missed five games because of thumb surgery in September and October.
“A lot of people wrote us off then,” Saints left tackle Terron Armstead said. “But we’ve won games different ways -- low-scoring, high-scoring. So I think just the makeup of this team, the grit that we have, has built us for what we’re about to do.”
Brees, who talked recently about how precious each of these opportunities is to him now that he is about to turn 41 on Jan. 15, said he does not consider Sunday’s game against the Vikings to be any type of “revenge game.” It was two years ago that the Vikings knocked New Orleans out of the playoffs with a stunning 61-yard touchdown pass to receiver Stefon Diggs as time expired.
But Brees said he thinks, “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 it into something positive. And use that as fuel, use that as a way to just bring us closer together.”
Unfortunately for Brees, he has been around for all five of the Saints’ heartbreaking playoff exits that followed up the franchise’s only Super Bowl victory in 2009.
For those who might not remember all the gory details, here is the full list -- ranked in order of pain and suffering, from least to most:
5. The illegal forward pass, 2013
The Saints (11-5) weren’t expected to win this divisional-round game at top-seeded Seattle. But they made a late surge with two fourth-quarter touchdowns and recovered an onside kick with 26 seconds left, while trailing 23-15.
Alas, they blew their chance at a miracle finish of their own. New Orleans receiver Marques Colston could have run out of bounds at the Seahawks’ 36-yard line with six seconds left. Instead, he threw an illegal forward pass while attempting an ill-conceived lateral.
4. The ‘Beast Quake,' 2010
Apparently, the Saints’ Super Bowl hangover lasted a whole year. Because their entire defense looked punch-drunk while Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch famously powered his way through at least eight potential tacklers during a 67-yard touchdown run that cemented his “beastly” legacy and gave Seattle a 41-30 lead with 3:22 remaining.
The Saints had some historically bad luck that year, too. They had to go on the road as an 11-5 wild-card team and play at Seattle, which won the NFC West with a 7-9 record.
3. Alex Smith to Vernon Davis, 2011
The Saints and San Francisco 49ers scored a total of four touchdowns in the final 4:02 of this thriller. Brees hit tight end Jimmy Graham with a 66-yard TD pass for a 32-29 lead with 1:37 remaining. But Smith responded with a 14-yard TD pass to his own tight end with nine seconds left.
At the time, I wrote that it was the most painful loss in Saints history. Little did I know how short of a shelf life that sentence would have. What hurt the most was that the Saints had one of the best offenses in NFL history that year. They still hold the record for most yards in a season at 7,474. But they got stuck as the No. 3 seed despite a 13-3 record (sound familiar?).
2. The ‘Minneapolis Miracle,’ 2017
The fourth-seeded Saints (11-5) rallied back from a 17-0 halftime deficit at Minnesota in the divisional round and took a 24-23 lead with 25 seconds remaining. But with 10 seconds left and no timeouts, Vikings QB Case Keenum heaved a deep pass to Diggs, who leaped up to catch it.
Rookie Saints safety Marcus Williams tried to take out Diggs’ legs because a tackle in bounds would have ended the game. But he whiffed after launching too early (and actually crashed into Saints cornerback Ken Crawley in the process). Diggs cruised untouched into the end zone.
It was the first “walk-off” touchdown in NFL playoff history.
1. The no-call, 2018
It seemed impossible for the Saints to top the other four plays on this list. But, wow, did they ever.
New Orleans earned the No. 1 seed with a 13-3 record and took an early 13-0 lead over the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC title game. But the game was tied 20-20 with 1:45 remaining when the officials missed a blatant PI call against Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman. A flag would have allowed the Saints to practically run out the clock. Instead, they had to settle for a field goal and the Rams came back to win.
As a small consolation prize, Saints coach Sean Payton did spearhead the groundbreaking rule change in the offseason that allowed PI penalties to be reviewed by replay. Unfortunately, that rule has only led to more controversy throughout this season (including the no-call in last week’s Seattle-San Francisco game that ironically prevented New Orleans from earning a No. 2 seed).