Not every NFL franchise has an obvious “number one most heartbreaking moment,” but the New Orleans Saints do. In a top five list, what are the other four?
5. 1992 NFC Wild Card loss to the Eagles
The Saints had not yet won their first playoff game in 1992. They had lost in the previous two seasons and were trying to break through. New Orleans had lost in all three of its previous playoff appearances, twice at home.
Surely the Saints — 12-4 in 1992 — would finally notch a win. Coach Jim Mora was going up against the Philadelphia Eagles and head coach Rich Kotite, who had only two winning seasons and one playoff appearance in a mediocre six-year head coaching career.
Well, this was the one day when Rich Kotite won a playoff game. Kotite averaged just under seven wins per season as an NFL head coach, but this was the day when everything went right for him. The Eagles won, 36-20. Mora never won a playoff game with the Saints despite being the first great coach the franchise has had.
Mora and Sean Payton are the only two successful coaches in Saints history; Mora is the only one to produce seven consecutive non-losing seasons. Yet, Mora always fell short in January. This was his last chance in New Orleans.
4. 1991 NFC Wild Card loss to the Falcons
The Saints lost to the Falcons. In the playoffs.
No Saints fan needs to hear anything more than that. The end.
3. 2011 NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the 49ers
The Saints trailed by 14 points on the road. They fought back. The Saints scored 18 points in the fourth quarter. They took a lead with 4:02 left. They fell behind. They took another lead with 1:37 left.
The 49ers scored two touchdowns in the final 2:15, the last one with nine seconds left, to stop the Saints in a classic game. New Orleans would have hosted the NFC Championship Game since the New York Giants upset the 15-1 Green Bay Packers in the divisional playoff round.
New Orleans would have welcomed favorite son Eli Manning and the Manning family to the Superdome. It would have been a proud moment in the city’s history, regardless of which team won… but it was not to be.
2. 2017 NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the Vikings (The Minneapolis Miracle)
The Saints, improbably, suffered a worse loss than this one 12 months later, but at the time it happened, The Minneapolis Miracle was easily the most heartbreaking moment in franchise history.
You remember the details:
The Saints led 24-23 with 10 seconds left. The Vikings had the ball at their own 39-yard line. Minnesota absolutely had to complete a downfield pass on this play (it was third down) to have any chance of a game-winning field goal.
The Vikings did complete a pass to the Saints’ 34-yard line with four seconds left, but they still would have had to kick a 52-yard field goal, not a sure bet — and not even a likely bet.
There was just one problem: Saints safety Marcus Williams completely whiffed on his tackle attempt, enabling Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs to run untouched into the end zone as time expired.
Vikings 29, Saints 24.
In 100 years of NFL history, this is the ONLY TIME a playoff game has ended on a touchdown in regulation. Any playoff game which has gone to overtime has ended with a score; several famous NFL playoff games ended with touchdowns. This is the only one to end with a regulation touchdown.
Wait — wasn’t the “Music City Miracle” — the Tennessee Titans’ kickoff and lateral return against the Buffalo Bills — a last-play regulation touchdown? No. The Titans kicked an extra point and then kicked off.
The Vikings did not attempt a conversion after this touchdown. This was a true walk-off.
1. 2018 NFC Championship Game loss to the Rams
The Minneapolis Miracle which crushed the Saints at the end of the 2017 NFL season was as brutal a playoff heartbreak as one could imagine.
This, amazingly, topped it — by a good margin.
The Saints should have been in the Super Bowl. If the refs had correctly called defensive pass interference on Nickell Robey-Coleman of the Rams, the Saints would have had first down and goal and would have been able to kick a chip-shot last-play field goal to win the NFC Championship Game.
Moreover, the Saints would have been able to play the Super Bowl — SB LIII — in Atlanta, dancing on the hated Falcons’ home turf.
They were robbed. Saints fans will never forget it.