Official team photos from the New Orleans Saints vs Atlanta Falcons game on Sunday, December 21, 2014. Photos by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)
The emotion that saturated the New Orleans Saints' locker room Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome set up shop in the team's locker room in its Airline Drive training facility Monday, the day after the Saints were eliminated from playoff contention by a 30-14 loss to Atlanta.
A 6-9 record entering Sunday's season finale in Tampa, Fla., against the Buccaneers, isn't within several time zones of what the Saints were expecting to see transpire this season.
But while 7-8 wouldn't have been a stratospheric improvement record-wise, it'd have been palatable for the Saints this season, because a victory on Sunday would've raised their record to that mark and kept them in contention for the NFC South Division title.
Instead, their fifth consecutive home loss assured them of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008 with Sean Payton as coach.
"You want to be playing meaningful games," Payton said Monday. "It drives you and there's nothing like winning, that feeling of being successful and having a chance to get in the tournament and play for something. The finality of not accomplishing that – there's disappointment."
Disappointment, or some tense of it, was the operative word Sunday and Monday as Saints players attempted to come to grips with the elimination.
"It was a disappointing season but at the same time, I think we grew and we learned from it," safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "We learned from these trials and this adversity this year and we're going to build from it. Coach is going to get it right. I trust in him and it's going to be better next year.
"It's difficult but at the same time, it is what it is. You've got to deal with it, take it for what it's worth, learn from it and grow and don't make the same mistakes twice."
Unfortunately for the Saints, the mistakes came in droves this season. In Sunday's loss, New Orleans committed four turnovers and quarterback Drew Brees was sacked five times.
"It's a tough day to come back in, after a game like that," Payton said. "A lot was said after the game (Sunday). It was a tough loss. I thought we played with real good energy and effort, emotionally – all those things were on point and yet, one of the things that has hurt us all season and manifest itself yesterday is that turnover, takeaway-giveaway margin.
"So when you're playing in a game against a team like that, and you end up minus-4 – those numbers for the year are real poor – you really just keep yourself from having an opportunity to win a game. That's something that I have to look closely at.
"In our games where we've won this year, it's been a positive. But it's been something that's really hurt us and it's still the No. 1 statistic with regard to winning and losing. If you take a look at the top eight or 10 teams in that category, most of them will be in the playoffs. I think we're second to last in that area."
The Saints are minus-11 this season, with 27 turnovers and 16 takeaways. Only Oakland, at minus-14, is worse.
Among the top 10 teams in takeaway-giveaway ratio, only Atlanta (6-9) and Cleveland (7-8) have losing records, and the Falcons will be playing Carolina (6-8-1) for the NFC South title on Sunday.
The Saints, meanwhile, simply will be hoping to close out the season with a victory.
"You go into the season with aspirations," left guard Ben Grubbs said. "You set your goals for the year, individually and team-wise. Your preparation gives you confidence. We had a good training camp. We work hard each and every week. We bounce back after losses.
"We come in here a lot of Mondays feeling down, having to look truth in its face and accept coaching and accept the things that we did wrong. But when Wednesday comes it's like, 'OK, we've got to win this next game,' and you feel like you have a shot, and we do.
"But at the end of the day, we are what we are. Our record is what it is. You have to try to take the good out of it and learn from it."
Official team photos of Saintsations from the New Orleans Saints vs Atlanta Falcons game on Sunday, December 21, 2014. Photos by Michael C. Hebert and Matthew Sharpe (New Orleans Saints photos)