As the curtain drops on a disappointing 2015 season Sunday and ushers in a potentially wild offseason, my thoughts turn to the second Sunday in November when the New Orleans Saints could have changed the course of history.
Upon reflection, a season hung in the balance.
A defining moment presented itself, that moment in every season when the future can swing one way or the other; on an official's call, a haphazard bounce of a ball, a win or loss in the ninth game of a 16-game season.
For the Saints that moment came on November 8th at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the 1-6 Tennessee Titans, who only days earlier had changed head coaches with the abrupt dismissal of Ken Whisenhunt and the ensuing elevation of assistant Mike Mularkey.
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The Saints entered the contest with a 4-4 record, riding the momentum of a three-game winning streak, fresh off an epic 52-49 victory in the waning seconds against the New York Giants.
The Black and Gold had overcome a horrific 0-3 start and a deep 1-4 hole to finally reach the .500 mark under coach Sean Payton. With games against the very beatable Washington Redskins and Houston Texans on the horizon, the future looked much more promising and gave Who Dat Nation reason to hope.
After sprinting out to a 14-3 lead in the first 12 minutes, it appeared the Saints were well on their way to burying an inferior opponent and poised to soar above .500 for the first time since the wildcard season of 2013.
Woulda, coulda shoulda!
The Titans didn't fold. They refused to lose. They took a standing-10 count, regained their collective senses and knocked out the Saints in overtime, winning 34-28 on a nine-play, 80-yard drive engineered by rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota who had missed the previous two games with a sprained knee.
The game ended with Saints quarterback Drew Brees on the sideline, helplessly watching Mariota move the Titans' offense downfield with the ease of a hot knife through butter.
The Saints never recovered from that crushing defeat, soon dropping to 4-8 after consecutive losses to Washington, Houston and Carolina.
Now here they sit at 6-9, on the fourth day of a New Year, playing against the Atlanta Falcons inside the Georgia Dome, trying to stay out of last place in the NFC South, jockeying for position in the upcoming NFL draft.
As we Remember the Titans ... for all the wrong reasons.
Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at Sports@sunherald.com.