METAIRIE - The finality of the moment wasn't lost on New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead.
"The thing that I will take from it, we'll probably all be a little regretful about what could have been," said Morstead. "Because we had everything we needed here to go all the way."
Morstead said he believed the 2011 Saints were a better team than the 2009 Super Bowl champion Saints.
Can the Saints, in February of next year, be the first team to play in a Super Bowl on its homefield? Of course. And the course of next season will likely be determined before the April draft. Remember, the Saints currently do not possess a 2012 first round pick. That selection was sent to New England to get back into the first round last year and select Alabama running back Mark Ingram.
Before the draft, New Orleans will likely have signed quarterback Drew Brees to a long term deal that could make him the highest paid player in the NFL. By signing Brees before free agency, the Saints can turn their attention to signing a pair of key free agents, wide receiver Marques Colston and guard Carl Nicks.
The Saints will have to upgrade their defensive front seven. Rookie defensive Cameron Jordan must make a big leap in his second season.
Of course, this team is still very much in need at linebacker.
After the dust of a 36-32 defeat at San Francisco settles, head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis should come to the following conclusion. The nucleus for another championship run is there.
Super Bowls are extremely difficult to win. Just getting there can be the most daunting of challenges.
The New England Patriots, generally considered the model franchise in the NFL, beat the Denver Broncos last weekend for their first playoff win since January of 2008.
From 1981 to 1994, the San Francisco 49ers won five Super Bowl titles. Lost in the Niners' incredible run of excellence was the fact that from 1985 thru 1987, Bill Walsh's powerhouse teams were 0-3 in playoff games.
The Saints have the two key ingredients in place for sustained excellence. That is a Hall of Fame quarterback and one of the best head coaches in the game.
Payton is known for being one of the NFL best playcallers. But he also has a keen eye for talent. Said Payton, "We have to continue to develop and draft and look at acquiring young players that will be in our program so our time is 12 years and not just two or three years."
Six years ago, Saints fans were wondering if their team would ever reach a Super Bowl.
Now, the only thing that truly matters to the franchise and its city is to go back.
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