ATLANTA -- The New Orleans Saints did their job on the field Sunday -- even after quarterback Taysom Hill left with a Lisfranc injury in his left foot during the second quarter.
But instead of returning to a victorious locker room after their 30-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, the Saints rushed back into an extremely tense scene. The entire team was glued to the TV screens in the room, watching their season end in gut-wrenching fashion as the San Francisco 49ers came back to beat the Los Angeles Rams 27-24 in overtime.
The Saints (9-8) were eliminated from the playoffs because of San Francisco's victory -- the first time they have missed the postseason since 2016.
"It was just quiet," said replacement quarterback Trevor Siemian. "We were all locked in. And it just kind of takes the air out of the room."
"It's pretty easy to describe," coach Sean Payton said of the atmosphere. "Probably any and all Saints fans watching it would've felt the same way as our locker room. You're watching, you're leaning on every play."
Of course, the Saints' tumultuous season had to end with even more insult and more injury.
Hill left the field after a 1-yard run in the second quarter and did not return. Payton said Monday that Hill is expected to have surgery to repair his Lisfranc injury, then require a smaller surgery down the road to remove the hardware. Payton did not give an estimated timetable for his recovery.
Siemian and New Orleans' dominant defense picked up the slack, however, going on a 17-0 run over the final minutes of the first half. Siemian finished 9-of-15 passing for 71 yards and two touchdowns. The Saints' defense forced a total of three turnovers.
The Saints won four of their last five games to stay in contention -- and nearly became the seventh team in the Super Bowl era to make the playoffs while using four different starting quarterbacks in a season (Jameis Winston, Siemian, Hill, Ian Book), according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
And, of course, the Saints played this season without Drew Brees, who retired in March. They also lost superstar receiver Michael Thomas to a season-long ankle injury, among many other ailments.
The Saints had also set an NFL record by using 58 different starters on offense and defense through Week 17, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
"This hurts," defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "I hate it for our defense because I think our defense was so stellar. I hate it for our offense because I think our offense overcame a lot. I hate not seeing the playoffs for the first time in five years. Time in the NFL is so finite.
"I think the locker room has done a phenomenal job of sticking together the entire year through all the ups and downs."
Siemian didn't hesitate when asked if he has ever experienced a crazier season.
"No," he said. "I thought last year was pretty weird with all the COVID things going on. But this has been chaos to put it in one word. I think that's something we can hang our hat on -- is the leadership, the captains and everybody kind of righting the ship when it was chaos at times."
Safety Malcolm Jenkins, who has won two Super Bowls with the Saints and Philadelphia Eagles, said this ending hurt -- but they all do.
"I was telling the guys, unless you win the Super Bowl, it ends like this every time," Jenkins said. "I don't think you ever get used to the abruptness of the end."
Hill went 4-1 as New Orleans' starting QB, getting a big assist from the defense. However, he missed time with a concussion, a partially torn plantar fascia in his right foot and a mallet finger on the tip of his right middle throwing finger.
Hill also had an entire season wiped out by a Lisfranc injury in his right foot during an injury-plagued college career at BYU.
Siemian went 0-4 as New Orleans' starting QB when injuries were at their worst throughout the roster in the middle of the season. However, he helped lead New Orleans to two wins in relief. He replaced Winston during the second quarter of a Week 8 home win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after Winston tore an ACL.