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The Saints’ playoff losses keep getting more painful

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The Saints won a Super Bowl after the 2009 season. It’s been nothing but playoff heartbreak since.

Saints QB Drew Brees hangs his head and touches the facemask of his helmet with his right hand, superimposed on a black background with white dots and pink and purple squiggly lines
Drew Brees is still trying to make it to the second Super Bowl of his Hall of Fame career.

The New Orleans Saints are back in the playoffs and hopes are high. It’s the worst thing that could happen.

Since winning the Super Bowl a decade ago, a pattern of immense disappointment has emerged whenever the Saints make the playoffs in dominant fashion. Any team losing in the postseason is bad, but New Orleans has cornered the market on heartbreaking exits — all of which is underscored by Drew Brees. We are all aware that one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history has an expiration date, and much like Peyton Manning before he went to the Broncos, we’re waiting to see if Brees can secure one more ring.

If you’re a Saints fan, you might want to avoid reliving these moments, but it’s important to retrace how we reached this point, and just how agonizing it’s been for the Saints in the playoffs in the last decade.

2010 season: The mid-game collapse and Beast Quake

A perennial issue for New Orleans was a lacking defense that never lived up to the team’s lofty offense. That changed in 2010, when New Orleans had one of the best defenses in the NFL. The 11-5 Saints fought their way through a brutal NFC South, which featured three 10-plus win teams, finishing second to the 13-3 Falcons. They headed into what felt like a favorable Wild Card Round matchup against the 7-9 Seahawks, who waded through a miserable NFC West into the playoffs.

The Saints were extreme favorites, even taking into account traveling to Seattle for the game. The Seahawks were statistically one of the worst teams to ever make the playoffs, and Brees was coming off a 4,600-yard passing season. Furthermore, the Saints had proved they could handle the matchup, winning 34-19 when the teams met in Week 11.

The game started as expected. The Saints jumped out to a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter and looked firmly in control. Then everything collapsed. In the span of 22 minutes, Seattle scored 27 points before the game was cemented in NFL history with one play.

That was the “Beast Quake” run, in which Marshawn Lynch ran 67 yards for a touchdown and set off seismic monitors in the process as Seahawks fans created a man-made earthquake.

The Saints lost, 41-36, to cap off a season when they finished with a top-10 offense and defense.

2011 season: The Catch III

Remember that New Orleans was coming off a year when it needed to travel as an 11-5 team to face a 7-9 team because of the difficulty in its division.

A similar things happened this year. At 13-3, the division champions found themselves in a situation where the NFC was stacked. The Packers earned the No. 1 seed at 15-1, and the 13-3 49ers were the No. 2 seed due to a tiebreaker. The result was the Saints, who were perfect at home that season, easily handled the Detroit Lions in the Wild Card Round.

Then they had to head to San Francisco in the Divisional Round. Despite a slow start, the Saints battled back and traded blows with the 49ers in the second half. With 1:37 remaining, Brees hit tight end Jimmy Graham for a 66-yard touchdown to take a 32-29 lead.

The 49ers didn’t bat an eye. Alex Smith drove them down the field and found his tight end, Vernon Davis, for “The Catch III,” a game-winning touchdown with just nine seconds left.

The Saints lost, 36-32.

2017 season: The Minneapolis Miracle

If there’s one thing that’s consistent with the Saints’ routine playoff collapses, it’s that they find a way to get moments rubbed in their faces for eternity, all with signature names attached. It happened with Beast Quake, and again with the Minneapolis Miracle.

With 10 seconds left in the Divisional Round, the Saints were up 24-23 in a game that seemed over. At their own 39-yard line, the Vikings called “Buffalo Right Seven Heaven” — a passing play out of a bunch formation that made Stefon Diggs the critical receiver running a route to the sideline.

At the time, everyone expected the Vikings were simply aiming to get into field-goal position by running out of bounds. But a botched play at the ball by free safety Marcus Williams left Diggs with the remarkable sideline catch and nothing but daylight. Diggs took the ball 61 yards for the score, which made the matchup the first NFL playoff game to end with a walk-off touchdown.

Once again the Saints were on the wrong side of history.

2018 season: The non-call

The Saints were the No. 1 seed in the NFC for the first time since they won the Super Bowl. And it still didn’t stop the heartbreak from coming.

A year after giving up one of the most embarrassing touchdowns in postseason history, the Saints once again found themselves being the talk of the playoffs for all the wrong reasons. A back-and-forth NFC Championship Game against the Rams went to overtime after one of the most horrific missed calls in league history.

With 1:45 left in the fourth quarter, Brees threw the ball to Tommylee Lewis, who was in position to make a play on third-and-10. At the time, the game was tied 20-20 and a completion could have set the Saints up with a touchdown or a game-winning field goal as time expired. However, Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman blew up Lewis on the play in what appeared to be an obvious case of pass interference.

No flag was thrown, and the livid Saints were forced to settle for a field goal with 1:41 remaining. They would eventually lose in overtime, 26-23, sending the Rams to the Super Bowl.

The moment itself made the Saints irate. This was their season. A culmination of every piece of bad luck they’d worked against for the better part of a decade. Homefield advantage in hand, there was every belief the high-octane Saints would match up favorably with the best the AFC had to offer, potentially leading to Brees’ second Super Bowl win.

Instead, Saints fans were left bitterly arguing (and attempting to litigate) the outcome of the game for the entire offseason and into the beginning of the 2019 season. It also led the NFL to try out a new rule that didn’t really fix anything.

2019 season: No OPI

History has shown a cruel propensity to punish the Saints for correcting their own problems. When New Orleans gets a defense, it’s punished. When the team secures homefield advantage, it vanishes in controversy.

This year, the Saints were 13-3 and the No. 3 seed, missing out on a first-round bye by inches. They hosted the Vikings in the Wild Card Round, two years after traveling to Minnesota to get their hearts ripped out by Diggs.

While perhaps not as controversial as past entries in this series, there’s little doubt that the conclusion of Vikings vs. Saints will cause some uproar. Bringing the game to overtime, the Saints managed a goal line stand, which stopped Dalvin Cook and brought up a critical third-and-goal situation.

Kirk Cousins threw to the back of the end zone to a waiting Kyle Rudolph, who appeared to slightly push off from his defender.

That emphasis is important, because it happened — but it wasn’t flagged and wasn’t egregious enough for the officials to change it.

Nonetheless, it was still a potential non-call that sealed the loss for the Saints and kept the disappointment train rolling.

Maybe next season will be their chance to turn their luck around. Or maybe they’ll find a new painful way to lose.

This isn’t something that should be celebrated, no matter how much the team might annoy you, though.

Brees deserves better. The city of New Orleans deserves more. It’s unclear how much long the team’s window is open — but to have every season end in acrimony is unfair. Now it’s on the football gods, or whichever NFL deity you believe in, to determine what will happen.