Mickles: Saints try to keep positive after disappointing stretch

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With so much on the line in the past two games, most notably their long-term postseason future, the New Orleans Saints have been frustrated and disappointed.

Frustrated by the St. Louis Rams.

Disappointed by the Carolina Panthers.

The only way to look at it after Sunday’s 17-13 loss to the Panthers, inside linebacker Curtis Lofton said, was for what it was worth. Nothing more, nothing less.

They’re a little down, but definitely not out.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to be in the playoffs,” Lofton said after the Saints were shocked by the Panthers’ last-minute, 65-yard drive to the game-winning touchdown.

That’s the good part — if it does happen — because the Saints certainly didn’t do anything to help themselves in the past two weeks.

After three losses in four games played over a 21-day stretch, starting with that 34-7 thrashing from the Seattle Seahawks, it’s amazing that the Saints still have a shot at winning the NFC South and claiming the No. 2 seed for the playoffs.

That’s where the bad part comes in.

After almost having that important plum in their hands, they no longer have a say in their seeding or where they’ll play once the regular season ends after Sunday’s game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

While remaining confident that his team will be in the playoffs, Lofton couldn’t be sure about anything else after helping keep the Panthers under control for 59 minutes before Cam Newton pulled off the shocking drive that put Carolina in the driver’s seat.

“We don’t control what happens next,” Lofton said. “We don’t control if we’re the two seed. But whether we are the two seed or the wild-card, we’ll be fine.”

Maybe, but they’ll have to put the frustration and disappointment of the past two weeks behind them in a hurry, even though all they need is a win against the 4-11 Bucs to qualify for the postseason.

But we’ve been saying that for two weeks. Win and they’re in.

While the 27-16 loss to the Rams hurt because St. Louis had no shot at the playoffs when they met, everything was on the line against the Panthers.

“It’s the most disappointed this locker room has been all season,” tackle Zach Strief said. “You put that much heart into a game. … Look, it’s been a long time since I’ve been as proud to be on a team.

“It was huge, wildly disappointing. There was a ton on the game,” he added. “There’s no moral victory in that we played hard. It hurts even more in a game where you say, ‘Man, we really let one go.’ We got beat at the end.”

Unlike a week earlier, when he was upset and frustrated by their uneven performance against the Rams, Saints coach Sean Payton made it a point to remain positive Sunday. After all, they can still get the prize they wanted with a win and a Panthers’ loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

“The message is putting it out there the way they did, and we were in position (to win),” he said. “It didn’t happen. We’ll bounce back.”

“There’s really not much you can look at and get mad at,” free safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “Just have to take this loss and go back to work because we’ve still got all our dreams and plans in front of us. It just might be a different road than we expected.”