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Window to win not shut for Saints

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Dan Parr

dparr@pfwmedia.com
Associate editor

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Posted Jan. 10, 2011 @ 3:53 p.m. ET
By Dan Parr

The Saints, who were upset by the Seahawks on Saturday, kept the streak alive — for the fifth consecutive year, the defending Super Bowl champion failed to register a win the playoffs.

New Orleans had its worst defensive showing in a long time against Seattle, giving up 41 points. That's 11 points more than Gregg Williams' defense gave up in any regular-season game in 2010 and it was the most points scored against the Saints since the Colts racked up 41 in a blowout win to start the 2007 regular season.

While the defense is catching most of the heat following the loss, there were some questionable play calls by head coach Sean Payton that shouldn't be overlooked. He decided to hand off to RB Julius Jones on a crucial 4th-and-inches play in the third quarter. Jones was stopped for no gain. QB Drew Brees could have fallen forward on a sneak and it probably would have been enough for the first down.

The PFW Spin

As disappointing — and shocking — as this loss was for the heavily favored Saints and their fans, the window for New Orleans to be a title contender is not shut. Payton's team didn't just sneak into the postseason and get exposed in a big game. The club was in contention for the No. 1 seed in the NFC until the final week of the regular season, it beat the eventual No. 1 seed in the NFC, the Falcons, on the road just a couple weeks ago. The Saints also overcame many injuries and an uncharacteristically sloppy season by Brees, who threw a career-high 22 interceptions, to get back to the playoffs.

There could be big names who played key roles in last year's title run departing in the offseason, but the Saints discovered some young talent this season when several of those veterans in limbo were sitting out with health woes. It allowed younger players at positions like tight end, free safety and running back to gain valuable experience.

TE Jimmy Graham, FS Malcolm Jenkins and RB Chris Ivory asserted themselves when TE Jeremy Shockey, FS Darren Sharper, who played in only eight games, and RBs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas missed time. Sharper and Thomas will both be free agents and Bush and Shockey are potential casualties of the salary cap if it's reinstated under a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The Saints will have to make some difficult decisions on personnel in the coming months — barring a lengthy lockout — and there will probably be more roster turnover between now and next season than the Saints experienced between winning the Super Bowl and the start of the 2010 campaign.

Their depth, which was a key factor in their ability to overcome injuries this year, will be jeopardized in free agency and GM Mickey Loomis' creativity will be tested when it comes time to figure out how they can afford to keep certain players. The vast majority of the team's first-string offense and defense is going to return intact, however, and those units are talented enough to make this a contending team in 2011.

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