METAIRIE, La. — For the past three years, the New Orleans Saints entered the final three weeks of the season with so much to play for, with tons of meat left on the bone of the season.
In 2012, Year of the Bounty lingering suspension to Sean Payton, the Saints have nothing to play for but pride.
The playoffs, for all intents and purposes, are out of reach for this version of the Black and Gold.
According to playoffstatus.com, the Saints have less than a 1 percent chance of finding their way into the postseason. That’s a bitter pill to swallow for those who have been to a Super Bowl, divisional playoff round and wild card round the past three seasons.
“Mathematically we’re still alive? Yeah. Exactly,” Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. “I don’t do all that math. I just know that 8-8 this season I seriously doubt is going to be playoff potential.”
Don’t expect the team to throw in the towel, however.
“We’re going to put those players on the field that number one, have earned the right to be on the field and then number two to give us the best chance to win football games,” Joe Vitt, New Orleans’ interim coach, said earlier this week. “We’ll continue to do that. That’s what we’ve always done here.”
In other words, don’t expect to see New Orleans (5-8) throw out its reserves for the bulk of Sunday’s noon home game against Tampa Bay (6-7).
Running back Mark Ingram, in his second year, is facing his worst season since at least high school. In three years at Alabama, Ingram went 36-5, winning the national championship in 2009. As a rookie, he helped the Saints get to 13-3 and earn the NFC South title.
But he understands that just because playoffs are a long shot, putting forth full effort is meaningful as the seasons closes out.
“We have a very prideful group in our locker room,” Ingram said. “I think our focus going forward should be just getting better every day, getting closer together as a unit and improving individually and as a unit every day. I think that should be our focus in finishing out the season strong, because, we if we had three straight losses, it would be nice to have three straight wins to close out the season.”
New Orleans’ last three opponents – Tampa Bay, Dallas and Carolina – are a combined 17-22. But while the Bucs have lost three in a row, Dallas and Carolina have both gone 2-1 over the past three games.
“Our players know under no uncertain circumstances what our goal is – our goal is to win all three games,” Vitt said. “Our goal is to get better every day in practice, because everyone is going to be held accountable for the way they prepare.”