The boulder again is at the foot of the mountain.
Before the New Orleans Saints again begin the arduous task of attempting to push it to the top of the NFL, players on Monday reflected on Sunday's 26-20, Wild Card playoff game loss to Minnesota in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
It was the third consecutive playoff loss for the Saints (13-4) in which the opponent scored on the final play of the game, and the second straight season elimination has occurred in overtime.
"You have no other choice (but to move on)," left tackle Terron Armstead said Monday. "This campaign is done. Take some time off ... and when we get back, hit the ground running."
"It's a tough pill to swallow three years in a row," linebacker A.J. Klein said. "But this culture and the way this team is built, I don't see where there's going to be a drop off moving forward. That's just the quality of guys that we have in this locker room."
The reality is that only one team totally will be satisfied at the conclusion of the season. But the Saints believed they had the right combination to be that team.
"It's hard when you feel like you're the best team in the league, and we've felt like that for a while now," Armstead said. "Just got to put it together on that day. It's any given Sunday.
"Every team is talented. We've just got to put it together on that Sunday, however it comes out to get the win. We had bad plays, they had bad plays. We made plays, they made plays. Whatever it takes to get that win, we just didn't do enough.
"It's tough. It's not a feeling that you get used to or you want to get used to. We play those 16 games to go to the postseason. That's the goal: To get in the postseason, get in the tournament and give ourselves a chance. We made it into the postseason and just came up short. And it's tough. It's tough to go through all that. But we understand at the end of the day there's only one winner. Thirty-one teams are going to have to restart and try again. For this team, the talent we have and the coaching, I feel like we had enough. We just didn't put it all together (Sunday)."
The Saints had the "meat on the bone" feeling in the aftermath of Sunday's loss. The defense couldn't get off the field often enough on third down (Minnesota converted 10 of 18), the offense didn't get going early enough (half of the 20 points were scored in the fourth quarter, and a fumble negated another scoring opportunity), and special teams even contributed a rare missed field goal by Wil Lutz.
"That's why it's the playoffs. It's one and done, if you don't win you go home," Klein said. "When you leave meat on the bone – I feel like we played with great effort, I feel like we left it all out there on the field – but when you look back and you see the game as a whole, there's definitely meat on the bone in certain plays and certain situations that you wish you could go back and change.
"But that's just not the reality of things. You have to move on and move forward, always play the next play. I think we did that. We made the adjustments that we needed to in the second half, I thought we played really good defensive football during the second half. But it came down to one play. And they made plays, and we didn't."
But the Saints are confident they have the right ingredients to begin the restart process.
"Winning is contagious," Klein said. "Once you get a taste of it, you don't want it to go away and I think that's what drives people. Every single year, when you have these letdowns or you have things not go your way – I mean, my stomach's burning to get back to work again. I fully expected to come in here today to start preparation on Green Bay.
"That's a tough pill to swallow. You've got to let it digest. Everybody feels the same way. So when you get that winning feeling or you come up short like we have these past three years, it's just motivation to keep pushing forward and that's what this team has to do."
"It's the end of the season," All-Pro linebacker Demario Davis said. "It's not the end. It's like anything in life – you get knocked down, you've got to get back up. One of the fortunate things about this game is there's an offseason, so you have a lot of time to rest, recover, process it and then begin to rebuild.
"I think it begins with perspective. First, you have to put everything into perspective and realize that it's a blessing to even be able to play this game. There's a lot of people dealing with a lot worse things than losing a football game or not getting a chance to win a Super Bowl. There are 30-plus other teams that are going to feel the same way, except the one that wins it all. So you put it in perspective, and you process it and deal with it.
"And when you get past all those negative emotions, you use it as fuel to make yourself better individually, make your team better and go for it all again."