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New Orleans Saints leaned on resilience to carry them through 2021 season

'I think that's something you find out about really when guys have adversity'

The New Orleans Saints take on the Atlanta Falcons in Week 18 of the 2021 NFL season on January 9, 2022.
The New Orleans Saints take on the Atlanta Falcons in Week 18 of the 2021 NFL season on January 9, 2022.

Strip away all the external occurrences, and at base is that the New Orleans Saints finished 9-8 and didn't qualify for the playoffs this season despite winning four of their last five games and going to the wire before being eliminated by San Francisco's overtime win against the Rams.

"It's tough," linebacker Demario Davis said. "You play this game for one reason, that's to win. Any time you fall short of that – whether it's soon, whether it's later – it's disappointing.

"You're hoping to get in and any time you're in a situation where you're hoping and you don't have that control inside your hands, it's not the best situation to be in."

But the external occurrences – Hurricane Ida, Covid-19, injuries, suspension – forged to produce a team that won't soon be forgotten by Saints fans, one that scaled wall after wall during the first 17-game season in NFL history.

Coach Sean Payton lauded the team's resilience after its 30-20 victory over Atlanta on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and again Monday.

"I think that's something you find out about really when guys have adversity," Payton said. "It's one of the things we look for when we're putting a team together, the makeup and toughness and grit, if you will. I think it serves you well, not necessarily when you're winning but it serves you well when you have to overcome some adversity. I think clearly that would be a trait I would describe of this team.

"I think it's demonstrated, I think people have behavior patterns. You lose a tough game, you come back and you get ready to play. We lost a tough game week 2 and then went on the road in New England and won one. You see it with players, you see it with coaches."

New Orleans saw it time and again, and Davis said it was something that comes along with playing the game.

"I think as disappointing as the year finished, not being able to go to the playoffs, there's still a lot to be said and a lot to be commended for the efforts of the team, the players and the coaches and all that we had to endure during the year," he said. "But not just what we went through, because everybody has adversity. But it's all about how you respond to it.

"A lot of times when you take so many blows you can either wave the white flag and surrender or give up or throw in the towel, but this team was resilient and continued to fight all the way through. Even to the end and having a chance at the end of making it into the playoffs, I think a lot is to be said for that, just in the character of this team.

"Football is the greatest teacher of life, I believe. That's my favorite part about the game, is how much it teaches about life. One thing about life is you're going to go through trials, you're going to go through adversity and you have to keep moving forward. And that doesn't mean that at the end of the storm, that the sun's going to come out all bright and everything is going to be all good. Just like this situation – we fought all the way through it and we still ended up falling short.

"But if you don't fight, you don't have a chance. And if you do fight, you do have a chance. And that was our situation. I think it's the same in life; the only way you have a chance to make it to a better situation is to keep moving forward when adversity comes. As long as you keep moving forward, the sun will eventually come out and it'll eventually go in your favor. I think we got a chance to experience that firsthand this season and we're all better players and people for it."

Payton said the Saints' five-game losing streak – during which the record went from 5-2 to 5-7 – was weathered because of the leadership in the locker room.

"It gets back to the ingredients, it gets back to getting the right type of people in the building," Payton said.

Chief among them was Davis, who finished the season with a team-high 105 tackles (70 solo) and three sacks.

"Being in a situation where you're just trying to scramble to get a win, I think in that situation it could have easily felt like disarray," Davis said. "But our mind-set was just continue to focus on the process, continue to keep our head down and do what we know works, and eventually it would turn in our favor. And it did. We were able to string together a couple of wins down the stretch and play some really good football coming down the stretch."

SURGERY FOR HILL: Payton said the Lisfranc injury that quarterback Taysom Hill suffered will require surgery. Hill injured his Lisfranc in the second quarter against Atlanta.

"He had one before, in his right foot," Payton said. "When he planted with his left foot, he felt something. My take is they'll have to do a surgery. It's a Lisfranc, they'll repair that area and then do a smaller surgery to remove the hardware after it's healed."

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