New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) celebrates his first touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings with New Orleans Saints offensive guard Senio Kelemete (65) and New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) in an NFC Divisional Playoff NFL football game in Minneapolis, Minn. Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018.

It didn’t feel real.

Terron Armstead couldn’t process what he was seeing. The sound. The image. It wasn’t happening. That was some other moment from some other time.

“It was fake. I was watching the screen, and I thought it was a replay,” Armstead said. “He got to the 30, and the crowd is getting louder. In shock. Seriously, in shock.”

Stefon Diggs’ 61-yard touchdown on Sunday was all too real. It launched the Saints off the treadmill into a sedentary state, one where the team is left to figure out what happens next and reflect on what went wrong. But the grieving and healing can only last so long. There is work to be done.

The last few times New Orleans reached the end of a season it felt like there was a lot of work to be done. The idea of immediate success the next season was what felt fake. After the 2014 season, the roster had to be stripped down. Then it was the scouting staff. After that, the coaching staff.

After going 11-5 and reaching the second round of the playoffs, the agenda will be different. There is now a young core to build around. The scouts found those players. The coaches built them up and put them in positions to succeed.

Everything will still be evaluated with a critical eye. This is the NFL. Resting on your laurels is how you get stagnant. But there shouldn't be any drastic overhauls this year.

“I would say there's not that utopia. Now that we’re here, no I don’t think anything is perfect right now,” coach Sean Payton said. “I think there are a lot of things we have to get better at. I think there are still offseason mistakes. There’s a lot of things that need to be cleaned up. We will work on those things here in the offseason.”

It's true. There were mistakes made last offseason. Committing big money to Nick Fairley was one of them. The doctors missing the diagnosis on Delvin Breaux’s broken fibula was another (the team has hired new physicians). And bringing in Adrian Peterson was something New Orleans should have avoided.

Despite the misses, New Orleans did a good job of finding valuable players, but the annual mishaps need to be avoided. And there will be money to play with this offseason. It's just impossible to know how much until the situation with Drew Brees is resolved and we know if the $18 million from his expiring contract remains on the books or gets pushed into the future. And that's assuming he sticks around. If not, the whole view of the upcoming season changes.

There is also the outstanding situation with Fairley, who was shut down before the season because of a heart condition. It’s possible the team could have his $7 million cap figure removed from the salary cap. Payton deferred to general manager Mickey Loomis, who is expected to speak with the media next week at the Senior Bowl when asked about the situation Tuesday.

Other cost-cutting moves could take place. Whatever space the Saints ends up with, they’ll need to make the right moves to get over the hump. Next year’s schedule is a little bit tougher. It will take more talent and depth to achieve the same heights.

While the young core has plugged most of the glaring holes, the Saints could still use some help at tight end, with or without Coby Fleener, linebacker, across the defensive line, potentially on the offensive line, and maybe even wide receiver. Another cornerback or safety could be needed if Kenny Vaccaro leaves. Getting those moves right will be the difference between success and failure.

"We need to be on top of that in free agency and our evaluations during the draft," Payton said. "We can’t make the mistakes we’ve made in the prior seven years and then come up short and wonder why. We have to be more on point. We have to be better that way and that’s the challenge we’ll have this offseason."

But it's easier to figure out who the rights guys are when your team already has several pillars in place and you’re trying to locate pieces that can bolster the foundation, not serve a franchise-changing talent. And that’s the biggest difference between a couple of years ago and how things look now. The team doesn’t need to sign someone like Brandon Browner when Marshon Lattimore is in place.

That’s a big difference from a few years ago.

There are no longer rumors or uncertainty surrounding this team. There’s just a bright future. That reality used to only be visible when watching replays of other teams. Now it's real.

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Follow Nick Underhill on Twitter, @nick_underhill.​