RENTON - It has almost become an eye-rolling cliché. It seems that the moment after a team wins the Super Bowl, one of the first things mentioned is the difficulty that follows the next season.
Comments like “targets on their backs,” “Super Bowl hangover,” or “everybody wants to beat the defending champions” usually apply.
At first, those newly crowned title teams shrug off such talk, but later they find that the clichés apply because the notions are largely true.
“Oh yeah, it’s true,” said Seahawks defensive end Raheem Brock, who was part of Indianapolis’ 2006 team that won the 2007 Super Bowl. “That next year is way tougher than the year you win it.”
So for the New Orleans Saints to be back in the postseason – they start defense of their Super Bowl title Saturday in a wild-card playoff at Qwest Field against the Seattle Seahawks – is viewed as an accomplishment by players who have been there.
“What they did this year with the 11 wins and the injuries, it shows that they are a team to be reckoned with,” said Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy, who won a Super Bowl in 2002 with the New England Patriots. “It’s hard to do what they did.”
Indeed, it’s not uncommon for a Super Bowl team to miss the playoffs in the following season; just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers. After winning titles in 2006 over the Seahawks and in 2009 over the Cardinals, the Steelers failed to make the postseason in the following seasons, going 8-8 and 9-7.
With the exception of the Patriots, who won back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005, 10 of the past 11 champions failed to make it to their respective conference title game the next season.
Since the first Super Bowl in 1967, 13 teams failed to qualify for the playoffs in the season after they won.
For a while, it seemed like the Saints might be the 14th team.
Following an unthinkable 30-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns in the Superdome, the Saints were 4-3 after seven games this season with less-than-impressive wins over the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers.
Saints coach Sean Payton had warned and preached to his players how difficult the rigors of defending a title would be. They were beginning to see why.
“Certainly, earlier in the season, you get everyone’s best game,” Payton said. “You become somewhat of a measuring stick because you were the team that won a Super Bowl a year ago.”
Milloy said it’s out of respect for what you accomplished the season before as well.
“There’s no denying who is the defending super champ,” Milloy said. “You should expect a team’s best. Out of respect for winning a title, you give them your best.”
Said Brock: “Because you are a champion, if a team beats you, it’s like they proved something to themselves and to the rest of the league. And it’s like that every game.”
Brock then paused for a moment, thinking back to that time.
“But it helps when you have Peyton Manning,” he said with a laugh.
It helped that the Saints had Brees, too. Sure, he wasn’t quite as sharp this season as he was in 2009, when he threw for 4,388 yards and 34 touchdowns, with just 11 interceptions.
But with injuries to leading rusher Pierre Thomas, tight end Jeremy Shockey, playmaker Reggie Bush and wide receiver Marques Colston, Brees took it upon himself to do more. That didn’t always work out for the best. He threw for more yards (4,620), and had 33 touchdowns, but he was intercepted 22 times – his NFL career high.
“I think we did some things uncharacteristically early on – just some mistakes that we wouldn’t normally make – and it caused us to lose some games, mainly to turnovers, myself included,” Brees said.
Brees admitted he tried to do too much on his own, forcing throws and situations.
“That might be human nature,” he said. “I’m telling myself that it’s about everyone, not just one person. As a quarterback, you are responsible for a lot. No need to force things, just play the game and play within yourself to execute the offense and the play that was called.”
But while Brees may have had moments of frustration with his play, his role as the team’s leader was never in question.
“I think it’s a credit to our leadership,” Payton said. “I felt going into the season that if we were going to have success this year, it was going to be because we were going to be strong enough to handle some of the challenges.”
After that frustrating loss to Cleveland, the Saints ripped off six straight wins and propelled themselves into the playoff picture.
“There are a number of challenges, and I think that if you’re good enough as a team and you’re strong enough in the locker room, you’re able to handle those,” Payton said. “If not, then chances are you’re going to struggle some.”
Maybe the Saints didn’t win the NFC South and get a first-round bye. A home playoff game isn’t likely. Getting back to the top won’t be quite as easy as last season. But nothing about 2010 has been.
“I think we understood this year was going to be different,” Payton said. “We knew we were going to have to earn everything we got each week.”
And they will gladly take a wild-card spot in the playoffs and the chance to get back to the Super Bowl – no matter how slim chances may seem to experts.
“We’re not the 2009 Super Bowl champion Saints, we’re the 2010 Saints, and we’ve kind of had to pave our way,” said receiver Lance Moore.
That “way” hasn’t always been straight or easy. But the Saints are in the playoffs, and that’s an accomplishment.
“Our goal at the beginning of the season was to kind of position ourselves for this,” Moore said.
In the playoffs, a whole new set of clichés apply.
“This is what you play for,” Brees said. “This is a new opportunity. I feel like we have just as good of a chance as anybody because I know what we are capable of. I know where we have been, our experience level, and our attitude, so I am excited for us.”
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks/
One and done
Super Bowl champion teams that failed to qualify for the postseason the following season:
Super BowlChampionNext seasonRecord
IIGreen Bay Packers19686-7-1
IVKansas City Chiefs19707-5-2
XVISan Francisco 49ers19823-6
XXINew York Giants19876-9
XXVNew York Giants19918-8
XXXVINew England Patriots20029-7
XXXVIITampa Bay Buccaneers20037-9