Guaranteed, New Orleans Saints players and coaches, during Sunday's postgame interviews in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and/or Monday's reflection at the team's training facility, were going to be repeating the theme that has become as commonplace as any word around the team's training facility.
Whether the Saints held on for a comeback victory over San Francisco, or lost another heart-breaker, New Orleans was going to be addressing how it finished the game.
The 27-24, overtime defeat assured that the Saints would be addressing it in the latter form. And that form is one that New Orleans is more familiar with than it wishes to be this season: The Saints (4-5), for the fourth time this season, lost a game by three or fewer points, with the game-winning score being posted inside the final two minutes of regulation or in overtime.
The Saints have led Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit and San Francisco in the fourth quarter, but have walked away with a loss each time – 37-34 in overtime to Atlanta, 26-24 to Cleveland, 24-23 to Detroit and 27-24 in overtime to the 49ers.
Thus, the emphasis on finishing off an opponent remained a painful admonition for New Orleans.
"We've been in some hard-fought games," Coach Sean Payton said. "We've got to be able to finish in those situations and do a better job."
The Saints were within grasp of finishing off the 49ers due to a strong kick in the second half. They trailed 21-10 at halftime but rallied to take a 24-21 lead on Drew Brees' 2-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham with 1:52 left.
But San Francisco converted a fourth-and-10 play from its own 22 on a 51-yard pass from Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree, leading to a tying field goal by Phil Dawson. And the 49ers converted a sack and fumble in overtime into a fumble recovering and game-winning field goal by Dawson.
San Francisco was held to 125 yards, six first downs, 6 for 18 passing and 2 for 9 on third down in the second half, but converted its only fourth-down attempt of the game and a pair of field goals in order to win.
"That second half got us back into it," Payton said. "There's those opportunities where you have a chance to … you're at a final play and then all of a sudden the game extends. And yet, we still had plenty of opportunities. We get the ball, we punt in overtime, they get the ball, we force a punt and then later (we) have a turnover.
"That was one of the difficulties of the way it finished (Sunday) and coming up short. I felt we played much better in the second half and it was difficult getting in that situation. You put yourself in a position where you go ahead and you end up losing the game. It's frustrating, we've got to – starting with the coaches, all of us – look to be able to close out some of these close games when we have that opportunity."
Sunday's game against Cincinnati in the Superdome may be the next chance for players to post a decision more to their liking.
"I think we're still in good spirits," cornerback Keenan Lewis said. "We're not down. We played in a tough ballgame and it just didn't go our way. We've got to keep preparing and put this behind us and keep marching.
"It definitely gets harder, especially when it's close like that. We don't want to be the ones to get eliminated on some crazy type of stuff. We've got to win these games."
Official team photos from the New Orleans Saints vs San Francisco 49ers game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, November 9, 2014. Photos by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)