Mobile, Ala. – It may be as much necessity as therapy that New Orleans Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis is watching practice and evaluating players during Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Ala., three days after the Saints’ crushing 26-23, overtime loss to the Rams in the NFC Championship Game.
The necessity is the evaluation of college players, several of whom possibly will be members of the Saints’ 2019 rookie class, whether as picks (New Orleans currently selects in the second, fifth, sixth (twice) and seventh (twice) rounds, or as undrafted rookies.
The therapy getting back to normal as quickly as possible following a loss caused in part by, arguably, the most controversial non-call in NFL history. The overwhelming consensus is that the officials’ failure to call pass interference or helmet-to-helmet contact on Rams cornerback cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, who interfered with receiver Tommylee Lewis inside the 10-yard line with 1:49 remaining and the score tied at 20-20, prevented a Saints victory in regulation.
“That’s why I’m here,” Loomis said, smiling. “I had to get over here for my mental state. I think one thing is, when you’ve been around as long as I have (34 years in the NFL, 19 with the Saints, including the last 17 as general manager), you see a lot of things. You’ve had a lot of experiences.
“And I think that for all of us, in any facet of our life, as you get older I think you’re able to process things a little better because you’ve had some life experience that didn’t go well. So you’ve had to deal with that. So I’m guessing that I can handle that a little better than some, but I don’t know that. It’s not been good. It’s been a lot of sleepless nights.”
It was the second consecutive season that New Orleans (14-4), which won the NFC South for the second consecutive season and earned the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage for the playoffs, were eliminated on the last play of the game. In ’17, it was a touchdown pass by Minnesota as time expired in regulation and this year, it was Greg Zuerlein’s 57-yard field goal in overtime.
But this year, obviously, had a different feel.
“They made a play and we didn’t make a play (in ’17),” Loomis said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to kind of live with that. Tough to take, tough to swallow. But this is kind of a different feel, I think.”
Still, the Saints now are tasked with moving forward, even as the recent past remains in the rear-view mirror, an object that’s substantially bigger than it appears to be.
“Move on to next year,” Loomis said. “We’ve got to get going.”
Part of that is evaluating the next crop of prospects who possibly could be Saints by the end of April.
Despite the fact that the Saints have fewer picks than usual due to past trades, and no first-rounder, Loomis said the evaluation process remains the same.
“You evaluate every player in the draft; you never know what could happen in terms of acquiring picks,” he said. “You just never know what’s going to happen. And look, these evaluations are valuable to us down the road, when guys become free agents. So the process hasn’t changed.”
Too, there’s the reality that the Saints will return 20 of 22 starters, who remain under contract, many of them players entering their third and fourth seasons.
“Obviously, that’s a good thing,” Loomis said. “We’re a good team, won 14 games. That’s a good thing.”
That may help remove some of the sting from the way the season ended. But there’s no sugarcoating the way the Saints feel about the loss.
“(Team owner) Mrs. (Gayle) Benson put out her statement, I thought it was a great statement,” Loomis said. “And I think it does a great job of capsulizing how we feel about that.
“I believe the league’s already said that’s something the competition committee will discuss, and hopefully there’s a solution that we can all live with so that doesn’t happen again.”
The general manager also had a message for Saints fans.
“Our fans are hurting,” he said. “Just like coaches and players and staff spent so much time and effort. We achieved so many great goals – winning the division, securing the No. 1 seed, win the divisional round in a tough game. We did enough to put ourselves in position to win this game and then to kind of have that happen, have the rug pulled out from under you so to speak, that’s difficult to take. It’s difficult for our fans to take. So I understand.
“We had a great season. Our coaches and players did a fantastic job. We achieved a lot of our goals. The ending obviously was a disappointment, and yet, I don’t think we should overlook the really great things that our coaches and our players and our team did, as well as individuals.
“Here’s one thing, too: I thought the last two games, the crowd at the Superdome was unbelievable. Best I’ve ever seen, any place, anywhere. It was fantastic. It affected the game. That’s part of the Rams’ great achievement of winning the game, is that they did that under some really adverse conditions. Hats off to them. But I think our fans proved once again how fantastic they are, and I know we appreciate that a lot.”
As for the team, Loomis said it displayed several admirable qualities, the kind that will help it navigate this period.
“I love our team,” he said. “I love the character and the guys we have, how close they are, their resiliency and their grit, as a whole. I love our staff, I love our players. That’s what’s comforting. We’ll get through this.”