ARLINGTON, Texas — Drew Brees pressed Sunday afternoon, looking for just the right answer when asked after the Saints’ 34-31 overtime win at Dallas just what it would mean to get to 8-8 by season’s end.
He could muster only that it would be the best the Saints can finish in this snake-bitten, suspension-riddled year.
It’s more than that.
It would be, as Brees said, the building of a foundation, the proverbial pile driving and cement pouring for 2013 and beyond.
“We understand we’re building a foundation now for our teams of the future,” Brees said. “We’ve got a core group now that’s going to be with us for awhile.”
The greatest lessons can only be learned from experience. A teacher, or a coach, can only explain so much.
For the 2012 Saints, a team with a roster filled with 23 players who have three or fewer years experience, it has been a season of valuable lessons and great experience.
Against Dallas, the youngsters learned maybe the most valuable one to learn, that no matter what’s happening, the Saints are built on resolve and a never-give-up attitude.
The Saints led by two touchdowns with less than five minutes to play. And then in that span, New Orleans was suddenly tied with Dallas, momentum taken away from it and heading into overtime.
Instead of folding, the defense buckled up and stopped the Cowboys on the first series of the extra quarter. The offense answered and drove for the game-winning score.
“Even our setbacks, you educate the new members of our football team and the young members of our football team what wins and what loses in the National Football League (and) specifically what wins for us,” said interim head coach Joe Vitt, finishing up his seventh year with the organization. “There is a learning curve and as a coach, you have to have patience and stay the course.”
The learning curve took longer than expected or wanted. No doubt 8-8 was not the goal the Saints had when entering the season. That record certainly is not a given, either; the Saints still have to play a Carolina team in Week 17 that beat them earlier.
But if you’ve watched the past two weeks, which came on the heels of a horrid three-week stretch, you’ve seen that the lessons may be beginning to take hold. When other teams could have folded, the Saints kept playing.
“To go out here and to have really nothing on the line and to play like we played, to play for each other, that’s what we talked about,” Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said. “We talked about being a New Orleans Saint and playing for each other like a brotherhood. We’ve taken that to heart these last two weeks.”
There’s no player who represents that more than Brees.
In the three-game stretch that knocked the Saints out of the postseason, he completed just 59.7 percent of his passes and had nine interceptions to only four touchdowns. In the past two games, he has completed 68.5 percent of his passes, including seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
Brees is the team’s spiritual and on-field leader for a reason. Time and again he has battled back throughout his career, ascending to higher heights than anybody expected or believe he could reach.
Now he and New Orleans are building for the future.
Few likely believed the Saints would respond in 2009 the way did after a 2008 season that, like 2012, didn’t meet expectations.
The lessons learned in ’08 were paid forward to ’09, where finish strong and smell greatness took hold.
The Saints, and Brees, are playing for the future.
“We’re never going to let anybody tell us we’re not playing for something, even though it’s not the playoffs for the 2012 football season,” Brees said. “We’re playing for something, even if that’s building a foundation for future teams. I believe what we can accomplish now will carry over somehow, someway.”
He may just be smelling greatness again.