Mickles: Despite loss, Saints still in playoff hunt

BY SHELDON MICKLES

Advocate sportswriter

Sunday was a good-news, bad-news kind of day for the New Orleans Saints.

The good news was that they had a golden opportunity to move into a tie for the final NFC wild-card playoff berth when the Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Bucs and Seattle Seahawks all lost before the Saints even took the field against the San Francisco 49ers.

The once-promising day took a quick turn for the worse, however, when the 49ers scored three touchdowns in a four-minute span to quiet a boisterous crowd in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

That sudden scoring burst propelled them to a 31-21 win, which spoiled the Saints’ hopes of moving above the .500 mark for the first time this season and, more importantly, further tighten the playoff race.

When Monday morning arrived, just like that, it was a good-news day again — if you chose to look at it the way the Saints have to.

Because the three teams that are a game ahead of them also lost, the Saints are right back where they were Sunday morning: in the thick of the hunt with five games remaining.

More good news came from the thought that they had to quickly put the 49ers game behind them and get ready to play the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons on the road in just 31/2 days.

“Yeah, it’s tough to swallow because I feel like we can beat that team … should have beat that team,” quarterback Drew Brees said Monday.

“(The 49ers) are really, really good.

“We have to be able to turn it right around,” he said. “The good thing is when you come off a loss like that, you just can’t get back on the field fast enough. In this case, we get back on the field about as fast as you can.”

As much as they can’t afford to think about what could have been Sunday, others will be playing the loss over and over again — and putting it in the same category as their Sept. 23 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

At least this loss was to a team that will be in the playoffs and not in the running for the first pick in the 2013 draft, which is where the one-win Chiefs are headed.

The encouraging news for the Saints is that their past two losses were to two pretty good teams: the 49ers and Denver Broncos.

Which gives them hope that they can still make a run with five games left even though the next two are on the road against the Falcons and New York Giants.

“I know there are about six or seven teams sitting there fighting for a (wild-card) spot or two,” Brees said.

“It seems like all of those teams play each other, for the most part, whether they’re within the division or outside the division.

“If we take care of our business, we’re in. That’s the way we all feel. (We) can’t win five games in one week though. We know if we take care of business this week, then we’ll worry about the next one.”