Saints have little to play for vs. Bucs

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNISNew Orleans Saints interim coach Joe Vitt argues a call earlier this season.
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNISNew Orleans Saints interim coach Joe Vitt argues a call earlier this season.

In all probability, the New Orleans Saints’ ultra-slim chances of making the playoffs will officially be gone when they walk off the Mercedes-Benz Superdome field Sunday afternoon.

Truth be told, they were pretty much gone a week ago after being blown away by the New York Giants, 52-27, to fall three games behind the NFC wild-card leaders with three games to play.

After three straight seasons in the playoffs, most of the Saints have never been through a three-week stretch that begins with a game against the Tampa Bay Bucs at noon Sunday in the Superdome.

The Saints were eliminated from playoff contention in the final game of the 2007 season and finished 7-9. They were out of it with two games to play the following year when they wound up 8-8.

So this is all new to the Saints (5-8) even though they’re still mathematically alive, but with seven teams ahead of them — including Tampa Bay (6-7) — in the race for two wild-card spots.

Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said he told the players when they returned to work Wednesday morning that the task was simple as they head to the finish line.

“The aspirations and goals of this organization have never changed … we come to work every day to get better and win a (Super Bowl),” he said.

“We told our team that there are two types of Super Bowl winners: those that win (multiple times) and those that win one.

“What we do from now on out goes into the process of winning the next Super Bowl we can come out with,” Vitt said. “We’re going to practice like champions, go to meetings like champions, take notes like champions, be held accountable like champions and play like champions.”

That means, Vitt said, that the Saints will be trying to finish with a .500 record while trying to build momentum for the 2013 season in games with the Bucs, Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers.

It’s not a fun thought although the Saints know they have no choice but to move forward.

“This is kind of a newer situation for me,” said left tackle Jermon Bushrod, a six-year veteran who joined the starting lineup in 2009 when the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV. “This is my first time as a starter that our playoff hopes are pretty much done.

“But us as pros and us as men, we have to continue to go out and keep the same focus and play with a purpose,” he added. “There can’t be a letdown in preparation or on the field. We’re in the business of continuing to get better and trying to get wins. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”

The Saints know they have no one to blame for the predicament they’re in but themselves.

On Nov. 18, they were in the think of the race after squaring their record at 5-5 with a 38-17 beating of the Oakland Raiders. But three losses in a row, capped by the drubbing at the hands of the Giants, did them in.

“We’re not playing solid fundamental football,” cornerback Jabari Greer said. “We haven’t played as disciplined sometimes. We never quit and are always in it. But ultimately, we haven’t been able to capitalize on the other team’s mistakes.”

That has helped lead to their eight losses, matching the number of games they lost in 2010 and ’11 combined.

“We didn’t win the games,” said defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, who was a rookie in 2008 when the Saints last failed to make the postseason. “We just didn’t do what it took throughout the season to make the playoffs.”

The Saints know some jobs will be on the line in the next three weeks, especially on the defensive side of the ball where they rank last in the NFL in total yards allowed and rushing yards allowed.

“At the end of the day, we’re all judged on our performances,” said defensive end Will Smith, a former captain. “Just because we’re out of the playoff hunt doesn’t mean that guys aren’t out here fighting for their jobs every week.

“It’s important to us,” he said of the next three games. “We’re still professionals and we get paid to play football.”

“It’s your job … it’s what you do as a professional football player,” Ellis said. “The job is to win games whether or not we’re going to be in the
playoffs.

“Our responsibility is to go out and finish the season the right way. Some teams lose track of that ideal, but this team won’t have a problem with that.”

Roster moves

The Saints on Saturday put free safety Malcolm Jenkins and tackle Charles Brown on injured reserve, ending their seasons.

Jenkins and Brown both have knee injuries. Jenkins was hurt in last Sunday’s game with the Giants, while Brown was injured on Nov. 18 at
Oakland.

To take their spots on the
53-man roster, the Saints signed guard Ricky Henry and safety
Jerico Nelson, a former Destrehan High School standout, from their practice squad.