- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: There’s no coming back from this one. The Saints’ season officially ended in the second round of the playoffs at Seattle -- though it was probably doomed last month when the Saints came here and were blown out in the first meeting. It’s not that the Saints can’t win away from the Superdome. But it sure ain’t easy for them to win here.
The combination of weather conditions and Seattle’s stifling defense rendered New Orleans’ passing offense virtually useless -- especially in the first half, when Seattle built a 16-0 lead.
Brees grounded: It’s hard to criticize the Saints’ game plan too much, since they were so patient and conservative early, with the run game working well while the weather was at its worst. But then Mark Ingram's second-quarter fumble was an absolute dagger (the only turnover in the game). And when the Saints did try to throw the ball in the first half, they had very little success.
Drew Brees and the passing attack managed two second-half touchdown drives (one in the final minute). But early in the game, balls were either slipping out of Brees’ hands or being dropped by receivers -- or Seattle’s defense was living up to its reputation as a physical shut-down unit. Tight end Jimmy Graham was held without a catch until the final 20 seconds. And Seattle repeatedly shut down the Saints’ screen passes.
Beast mode: The Saints’ defense was outstanding for much of this game -- the main reason they still had a chance in the second half. Seattle gained a total of just 52 yards over its first five possessions in the second half, punting every time.
But the Saints ultimately couldn’t stop Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch -- who burned them for a 15-yard touchdown in the first half and a game-clinching 31-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Lynch finished with 140 yards on 28 carries.
Up next: The Saints have to feel pretty good about how they’re set up for 2014 -- but this won’t be an easy offseason. They’re already projected to be over the salary cap even before re-signing unrestricted free agent Graham. So they’ll have to make some tough cuts and won’t be able to spend freely in free agency.
However, the core of players like Brees, Graham and rising young defensive standouts like Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette, Keenan Lewis and Kenny Vaccaro will keep this team a Super Bowl contender again next season. ... They would just rather be playing at home in the playoffs.