METAIRIE, La. — Joe Vitt and Drew Brees may not agree on what the superior side of the ball is in football.
They do, however, agree on this – the 2012 Saints might be the most enjoyable group they’ve been around since coming to New Orleans in seven seasons ago.
“I think the way this team has hung together, I think the way this coaching staff has hung together, from a coaching and player standpoint, just the ability to focus on every single day to get better,” Vitt said during his final week during the season as interim head coach. “Every single day has a chance to come together closer as a team.”
That resolve is the same thing Brees pointed out in agreeing with Vitt.
“Just what we were able to overcome, going from 0-4 to 5-5 and then from 5-8 to hopefully 8-8,” Brees said. “That’d be a big accomplishment, a big accomplishment considering the circumstances.”
Indeed, the Saints have gone through more in one year than any other team in the history of the game.
It started in January when the team lost a heart-breaking NFC divisional game at San Francisco, ending a season in which the team broke NFL records and legitimately could have won a Super Bowl.
Less than two months later, the bounty scandal broke, souring the final 10 months of the year with press releases from the NFL, statements from the NFL Players Association, leaks of pregame speeches, appeals and lawsuits.
That’s not mentioning suspensions that cost Sean Payton a full season, general manager Mickey Loomis eight games and interim head coach Joe Vitt six.
Brees’ holdout cost him the entire offseason, meaning the receivers and running backs weren’t able to work with him throughout the summer months.
All of that helped lead to an 0-4 start and, ultimately, a missed playoff run.
While players were saying what they had to early in the season about the offseason not affecting them, they’re now admitting that it did.
“I would never say losing coach Payton for the year and losing Joe early doesn’t have an effect,” tackle Zach Strief said. “If it didn’t have an effect, those guys wouldn’t be here. If coach Payton wasn’t an excellent football coach and didn’t make a positive difference, then he wouldn’t be here and clearly he does. Losing him has an effect.”
And yet, the team somehow made it back to 5-5, finding a way to get, at least briefly, into the playoff conversation. After a three-game losing streak, the team is now one win away from finishing the season .500, a big deal.
When all could have gone to hell, it didn’t and that’s what makes defensive end Will Smith agree with Brees and Vitt.
“It’s just everyone, through all the stuff we went through this year, everyone has always been positive, always been upbeat and never pointed a finger at coach or a player,” Smith said. “Everyone stuck together and that’s rare in this league in this day and age."