Drew Brees set a record and put 36 points on the scoreboard, not quite enough for his Saints to finally win a road playoff game.
Playing in the postseason for the first time since New Orleans' Super Bowl win last year, Brees completed a postseason-record 39 passes for 404 yards and two touchdowns. But the Saints' defense couldn't stop the Seattle Seahawks in a 41-36 loss Saturday, and the defending champs were headed home early.
"It's no fun to lose in the first round, obviously, because we had high aspirations and expectations for this team," Brees said. "As we looked at the playoff picture, it just felt like, 'Hey we're as good as anybody. We've got as good a shot as anybody.' And how many teams can say that they've gone back and repeated Super Bowl championships?"
Not this team.
Despite throwing 60 passes and hindered by a lack of depth at running back, last year's Super Bowl MVP wasn't intercepted and rallied the Saints within 34-30 in the fourth quarter. In the end, his efforts were negated by a defense that couldn't get enough stops.
With Seattle, now 8-9, the only division winner in league history with a losing record, it seemed a perfect opportunity for the Saints to claim the franchise's first postseason road victory. Before Saturday, the Saints lost 16-6 at Chicago in 1991; 34-16 at Minnesota in 2001; and 39-14 at Chicago in the NFC championship game four years ago.
But a slight offensive lull let Seattle back in the game during the second quarter, and the Saints' porous secondary had Brees and his offense playing catch-up for much of the night.
"This is a team that plays well at home. They always have - especially in the playoffs," Brees said.
It certainly started out well for the Saints.
New Orleans entered the game without running backs Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory, and in-game injuries to Reggie Bush and Julius Jones made things difficult.
"What became challenging is after (Bush) was down, and then certainly when Julius went down, we put in Heath (Evans) and we were a little bit more one-dimensional at that point," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "But our goal and our objectives were to come in and have that balance, and we just weren't able to get that done."
Bush said afterward he got hit in the same area where he broke his leg earlier this season. Bush said the X-rays came back negative.
Brees led the Saints within four points with 9:13 left, never closer. Despite the offensive success (474 total yards), the veteran quarterback was ruing the missed opportunities.
The last of those stops was perhaps the most crucial. With the Saints trailing 34-27, Brees couldn't connect with Devery Henderson on third-and-3 from the Seattle 4.
"Drew had a great game. He threw for a ton and all that," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "But we played good red zone defense. We forced a couple field goals when we had to, and it made a difference in the football game."
Though surprised 36 points weren't sufficient, Brees pointed to his side of the ball rather than assessing blame elsewhere.
"For us offensively, yeah they scored 41, but we had opportunities to score 50," he said. "So as I look at us and our production, we could have done better. We could have made some more plays that would have allowed us to get a win, despite what was happening on the other side of the ball."