The Saints had a chance to reach 8-8 in Atlanta, but the Falcons handed them a loss instead, ensuring a losing season for New Orleans in 2016.

For the third straight season, the Saints finish the year with a 7-9 record. It hurts missing out on the playoffs, and losing to the Falcons in the final game of the season felt like rubbing course grain salt into an open wound.

Matt Ryan and the Falcons torched the Saints defense in the first half, scoring touchdowns on all five of their drives. Atlanta had over 300 yards of offense in the first half, and even though they only scored three points in the second half, the damage was already done. The Saints ended up outgaining Atlanta, 473 yards to 465, but the Falcons walked away with the 38-32 win.

Head Coach Sean Payton described the loss to Atlanta plainly and directly.

"By and large, we got whooped in a lot of areas," Payton said.

There were some silver linings in the loss though. Drew Brees went on a late rally in the second half to close out the game with 350 yards and two touchdowns, and he reached a major milestone in the process. He eclipsed the 5,000 yard mark for the fifth time in his career, which is an incredible achievement when you consider only four other quarterbacks hit that number, and the other QB's each only did it once.

Brees wasn't the only Saints player to collect a personal accomplishment in the game either. Mark Ingram became the first Saints running back to reach 1,000 yards since Deuce McAllister did it in 2006, and rookie Michael Thomas collected his career high in yards (154) to break the 1,000 yard mark in his first year in the league.

The Saints actually played much better in the second half, but the 35 points they allowed in the first half was the worst defensive performance in a half during the Sean Payton era. They dug too deep of a hole to climb out of, which somewhat reflected how the 2016 season went.

Coach Payton knows his teams can't keep finishing with 7-9 records, if he wants to keep his job.

"We've got to find a way to get over that hump," Payton said. "There were too many games, too many opportunities this year, where we had a chance to win some of those close games."

Seven of the Saints' nine losses came in one-score games, so there's no denying Payton's logic when it comes to where the team came up short in 2016.

While the Falcons move onto the playoffs, where they have a first round bye, the Saints will have to shift their attention to the offseason and hope to right the ship in 2017. It's a sour ending note to a disappointing year of football for Who Dat Nation.

Brees will be back next season, with weapons like Thomas, Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Ingram. An injection of talent in free agency and the draft could go a long way, and the front office will have to decide whether to bring back other key players like Nick Fairley, Jahri Evans and Tim Lelito too. Everyone in New Orleans will be paying attention to the moves they make, and 2017 will be an important year for Coach Payton and Mickey Loomis. Another losing season could stir the winds of change.

It's time to put the jerseys back in the closet, Saints fans. Hopefully 2017 treats you much better than 2016 did on the football field.

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