0-4 start spelled doom for Saints

Resolve is a word the New Orleans Saints have used a lot, an awful lot actually, since their horrific 0-4 start back in September.

That four-game losing streak to start the season is the biggest reason the Saints are now looking at the end of the season, which will come Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

A three-game losing streak later in the season didn’t help, of course, but the 2012 Saints will point to the rocky start that had them in catch-up mode for the remainder of the season as the thing that did them in.

There’s no question about it.

There’s also no question that they can feel at least a little better about the season, even without qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2008, if they can defeat the Panthers.

While there will be no playoffs, there is something to say for finishing 8-8.

It’s a heck of a lot better — if by only one game — than being 7-9 with seven agonizing months to think about it before training camp begins in late July.

To Saints interim coach Joe Vitt, there’s a big difference.

“You have a choice where you can be 7-9, which is a losing record, or you can be 8-8, which is .500,” he said. “So, there’s choices and consequences.

“There’s not anyone in our building happy with 8-8,” Vitt added. “I’ll never be happy with 8-8, but the other choice we have is to be 7-9. That’s a losing record.”

While the difference is only one game, Vitt said it will say a lot about the 2012 Saints in the final analysis.

With a chance to throw in the towel on Oct. 1, one day after dropping a heartbreaking one-point decision to the Green Bay Packers on the road, the Saints gathered themselves and resolved to make things right.

If they win Sunday, they’ll be 8-4 in their final 12 games.

“That speaks volumes for ourselves, too,” Vitt noted. “That speaks volumes of who we are and what we are. I said it before — we are what we are.”

Regardless of how it plays out, Vitt said he will remember how the coaching staff and players had the patience and confidence to hang in through some trying times without having suspended coach Sean Payton around.

It showed in their latest win, a 34-31 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. Despite giving up two touchdowns in a 31/2-minute span that sent the game to overtime, the Saints prevailed.

“It just goes to show the character of this locker room and coaches,” said middle linebacker Curtis Lofton.

“With everything we’ve been through, to keep fighting and not give up, and just keep pushing and pushing and have a chance to be 8-8 — you have to take something from that.”

That’s why, Vitt said, this year’s team will be one of his all-time favorites of a 34-year coaching career.

Their resolve has a lot to do with it.

“I think the way this team has hung together, the way this coaching staff has hung together, from a coaching and player standpoint,” he said, “just the ability (they’ve had) to focus on every single day to get better.”