Mickles: Saints still playing hard despite trials

ARLINGTON, Texas — After crashing to 5-8 with a 52-27 loss to the New York Giants on Dec. 9, the New Orleans Saints were for all intents and purposes out of the postseason picture.

OK, maybe the computers that spit out the various playoff scenarios at the NFL offices each Monday morning said they were still in it — barely.

But it didn’t feel like it to the Saints, who’d been part of a playoff chase for three consecutive seasons before an 0-4 start to this season and a three-game losing streak late did them in.

But tanking it, or even coasting a little, was never an option.

Not last week, when the Saints blew the doors off the Tampa Bay Bucs with a 41-0 victory that put an official end to the Bucs’ flickering playoff hopes.

And certainly not Sunday, when they made it just a little tougher for the Dallas Cowboys to secure a playoff berth with a 34-31 overtime win in Cowboys Stadium.

Showing the resolve they’ve displayed in past seasons, the Saints had two opportunities Sunday to take the easy way out.

The first was when the Cowboys came back from an early 7-0 deficit to take the lead on two long touchdown passes from Tony Romo to a wide-open Dez Bryant.

The second came in the final four minutes when Romo ignited a rally that brought his team back from 14 points down to tie it with 15 seconds to play and send it to overtime.

That’s when the resolve really kicked in for the Saints.

“Yeah, we’ve said it from the onset,” wide receiver Marques Colston said. “We’ve got a great group of guys, and anytime you can put that together, you give yourself a chance.

“We’re continuing to fight and really preparing ourselves throughout the week to go out and win football games. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Colston, of course, was involved in the game’s defining moment when he fumbled the football forward after a catch in overtime and teammate Jimmy Graham hustled to recover and set up the game-winning field goal on the next play.

“There’s some luck involved with this game,” said Colston, who found it hard to celebrate even though he had 153 yards on 10 catches. “We haven’t had things go our way this year, and that’s all right. It’s not for lack of effort. … This team is still a group of prideful guys.”

And, as interim coach Joe Vitt pointed out for weeks, together.

“It’s a special team, to go out here and really have nothing on the line and play like we played ... we played for each other,” Graham said. “We’ve really taken that to heart these last two weeks.”

Which means playing for something even if there’s not a whole lot to play for except an 8-8 record.

“We wanted to play our best football, that’s what we want to be known for,” Drew Brees said. “Regardless of our playoff options, it’s about playing our best football in December.

“Regardless of how it shakes out, we understand that we built a foundation for our team’s future.”