Welp, that sure was one hell of a kick to the genitals. Again. Hey, on the bright side, look how far we've come. These days when the Saints really wind up and put one right to our collective ballsack, at least they do it in the playoffs. High five? Or something?

It sucks when you're not sure which emotion is the most appropriate for the situation, doesn't it? Take your pick, they're all applicable to some degree or another. The hard part is having to deal with all of them at once. All in a 4-minute span. You can hardly be blamed if it left you confused and irritable, and if you're still walking around in a daze some 72 hours later. Hell, I bet Pierre Thomas would come off less concussed than I would right about now.

Disappointment? Of course. Sadness? Absolutely. Murderous rage? By the shitload. "Same ole Saints" resignation? Irrational, sure, but perfectly understandable if not necessarily reasonable. Hey, we're fans. Reasonable isn't mandatory at a time like this.

Beaming pride, in spite of Saturday's outcome? You bet your ass. For me, anyway. Your mileage may vary. And if pride isn't exactly on your emotional radar right about now, I can't hardly blame ya. I just hope it comes back for you in due time. I'm confident that it will.

Meantime, memo to It's All Meaningless Without The Lombardi Guy: Quit being a douche. Get a grip. Try a little fuckin' perspective. You're a Saints fan, for crying out loud. Remember where you came from.

This just in: Making it through the playoffs is fucking hard. Don't take my word for it, just ask the 15 & 1 2 Defending Champs and their MVP Quarterback, who got their asses handed to them by the 4 seed in their own house Sunday.

Feel better yet? Yeah, didn't think so. Me neither. But we should, at least a little bit. Because it shows us that it isn't just a Saints thing. If it can happen to The Great Green Bay Packers on the Frozen Tundra of Venerable Lambeau Field, it can happen to anybody. Hell, it happened to The Great Tom Brady and the 18-0 Patriots a few years ago too. Nobody's immune. Nobody.

Which is why we here at moosedenied have long maintained that all you can reasonably "expect" from your favorite team in any given year is getting to the playoffs in the first place. Anything beyond that is ignoring the fact that crazy shit happens in the playoffs. Shit that just doesn't make any sense. Shit nobody could possibly have seen coming. Tuck Rule. A dude catching a pass with his helmet. Immaculate Reception. Blowing a 32-point lead in 28 minutes to Frank Reich. Hakim dropping the ball. And on and on like that.

We Saints fans carry a shitload of baggage, and we've earned every ounce of it. But there wasn't anything mystical or even Saints-specific about the way Saturday's game went down. They just lost, that's all. In spectacular fashion, granted. Soul-crushing fashion. Senseless, jawdropping, mindboggling fashion. Again. And it sucks something fierce, no doubt about it. But it happens. Just about every season there's one or two teams that "shoulda" won it all, but for one reason or another, didn't. Nobody's immune.

This team still has a shitload to be proud of. They still tied the franchise's all-time best regular season record. They still made the playoffs for a third straight season. They still played a playoff game at home, and won it in a romp. They still put together a 9-game win streak. They still broke about 47 franchise and league records. They still swept the Falcons (and Panthers.) They still put up six 40-burgers, including 4 in a row, and a 60-burger. They still went 9-0 at the Benz™. Not once did the Dome crowd have to witness the team lose in person. Not even once. And up until Saturday, was it not one hell of a lot of fun?

Remember where you came from. All that stuff still counts. It was hands-down the second best season in franchise history. Be a fan however you want, but to say that all of that stuff is meaningless now, just because the Saints fell short of the Ultimate Goal, is one hell of a crappy attitude.

On the other hand, that's the rub isn't it? That's why it hurts so much. Because they were so damn close. Because it was such a waste. Because this team was in fact better than the 2009 team, and they were right on the precipice of becoming greater than the 2009 team too. Because we know better than anybody how important it is not to waste the opportunity, because it can all go to shit in the blink of an eye, and before you know it you're back to 6-10.

But this year, it was all lined up. We didn't find out until Sunday that the NFC Championship Game would have been at the Benz™, and even despite Saturday, we're all pretty sure what would have happened this weekend had the Saints been able to escape The Stick, no?

And it all went up in smoke over two drives, 13 plays, 165 yards and 3 minutes, 19 seconds of game time. Just. Like. That.

There's been a lot of chatter since Saturday about whether or not this loss was worse than last year's loss at Seattle. I don't think it's a matter of "worse." I think they're two different animals.

The Seattle loss was more embarrassing. The Seahawks were a 7-9 team and were in the playoffs by default. The Saints were "supposed to" smoke them by two scores minimum. And then Marshawn happened. Assholes mocked us mercilessly, and will continue to for a long, long time. But at the same time, we all knew going into that game that last year's team probably wasn't winning a championship regardless. They were so beat up, running on fumes. So as humiliating as it was, it was relatively easy to come to terms with because the opportunity to win a championship wasn't really all that realistic.

The San Francisco loss was more heartbreaking. Because this time the opportunity to win a championship was totally realistic, especially after the Packers lost Sunday. Because the Saints took the lead — fuckin' TWICE — with 4:02 and 1:37 remaining. On the road. Against a worthy opponent, a 13-3 team, the 2 seed, a longtime nemesis. The opportunity was there to slay an awful lot of demons we Saints fans are still carrying around with us. Drew Brees had his Montana Moment. His Elway Moment. TWICE! The kind of moment where legends are made. And it was all reduced to a footnote. Trivia. If nothing else, Drew deserved better than that. As always.

Ultimately, if it has to be boiled down to a matter of which was "worse" I guess I have to go with heartbreaking over embarrassing. After all, we're Saints fans. We're used to being mocked. We're a whole lot less used to the Saints being the team that was so damn close and arguably shoulda won it all, but didn't. To me, that stings a hell of a lot more than having to continue to deal with the incessant and ridiculously lame Katrina or Baghead or Dome Team smack from the oh-so-clever peanut gallery. But I can certainly appreciate the opposite viewpoint.

Another popular topic of conversation since Sunday has been whether the Green Bay loss makes it better or worse. It's both, isn't it?

On one hand, as stated earlier, it ought to ease the pain just a bit to know that not even The Great Aaron Rodgers and the 15-1 Reigning Champs are immune to playoff heartbreak. That the Saints aren't the only team shit like this happens to in the playoffs. And unlike the Saints, the Packers genuinely got their asses kicked. At home! "At least we're not Mississippi" am I right?

But on the other hand, Green Bay's loss just increases the "what might have been" factor for the Saints. It puts an exclamation point on the "If only!" that'll be haunting us for a long time, maybe forever. (After all, most of us still aren't over the Dome Patrol never winning one, and probably never will be.) After the fact, it made the opportunity the Saints had that much bigger, and the waste of that opportunity all the more wasteful. It made the difference between "a shame" and "a damn shame."

It's a push, I guess. Both perspectives are equally valid, in my opinion.

And that's what makes all this so damn hard to wrap your mind (not to mention your heart) around, right? The dissonance is in the fact that all the emotions are appropriate, all the perspectives are valid, even though they conflict. There's no right or wrong way to approach it, it's all just a big jumbled mess of What The Fuck.

Another existential question that's been thoroughly pondered since Saturday, did Drew/Sproles/Graham's heroics late in the game make it better or worse? Would it have made it easier had the Saints not taken the lead twice in the final four minutes? Would you have preferred that the five turnovers buried the Saints for good far earlier in the game? To have avoided the greater heartbreak of having it slip away in the end after TWO legendary 4th quarter comebacks?

Our friend Kevin made the "peel the bandaid off slowly" argument on the post-mortem podcast. And while I can appreciate that point of view, I have to respectfully disagree. To me, in this context anyway, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Saying that you'd rather the Saints have just gotten blown out is like saying you'd rather them have gone 6-10 and missed the playoffs entirely. That trying is the first step to failing. That knowing you're not great in the first place is better than the sting of "so close, but not quite."

Love ya, Kevin, but I reject that notion. Give me a great movie with a crappy ending over a crappy movie start-to-finish any day. Those two touchdowns to take the lead were fucking glorious, the ultimate outcome be damned. If nothing else, those final four minutes gave us (me anyway) two short moments of incredibly intense joy. And it spoke volumes about our heroes' steadfast determination and ability to overcome unprecedented adversity.

These dudes never laid down. And they could have. Other teams would have. The Falcons would have. Past Saints teams would have. (And their quarterback would have been laughing about it on the sideline.) Give me this over that every time.

Small consolation? Definitely. But it's something, and it's not insignificant. Not by a long shot. You've gotta take whatever glory you can get. Those two drives will forever carry the sting of eventual defeat with them, but goddammit, at least they happened. And they were still fuckin' brilliant. They were still epic, the stuff of legend, even if we Saints fans are the only ones who'll remember how brilliant they were.

It's better to have Smelled Greatness and gotten boned anyway, than to never have Smelled Greatness at all.

Remember where you came from. Because you just might wake up one morning and find yourself right back there.

So there's my little post-mortem pep talk/lecture. (Sorry if it came off more the latter than the former.) I had intended to also join the masses and get into the inevitable blame game in this here post, as well as the issue of where we go from here. But we're at 2000 words already, and 3 days hence is already well beyond our self-imposed soft deadline. So we'll just leave it at this for today, and save the burial of Gregg Williams and the second pep talk/lecture about how the window isn't even close to closing and we're still right smack dab in the middle of the Golden Age of Saints football for another day. With any luck, that day will be tomorrow. Meantime, I've got some stuff to write for NoDef and some Breaking Bad to watch. Til then, go read this. And this. Then, if you don't mind, please attempt to explain to me why it is that they both seem so right on. I'll be trying to work that out my own self.

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