Handwerger: Saints focus turns to 2013 with lessons learned in 2012

Handwerger: Saints focus turns to 2013 with lessons learned in 2012

Credit: (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 30: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers throws the ball against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 30, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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wwltv.com

Posted on December 30, 2012 at 7:28 PM

Updated Monday, Dec 31 at 6:25 AM

OPINION/ANALYSIS

Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
Email: bhandwerger@wwltv.com | Twitter: @wwltvsports

Moments after the Saints’ season finished with a disappointing 44-38 loss to Carolina, interim head coach Joe Vitt promised that what needed to be fixed would be.

Luckily for Vitt – and for the thousands of those following the New Orleans Saints with their hearts and minds – there will be months to discover all that went wrong and figure out the corrections that need to be made.

The 2012 season is complete. All hail 2013.

As one fan and friend texted after the game, likely speaking for an entire fan base, “Thank god this season is over.”

For nearly 10 months, the Saints have had the dark cloud of bounties hanging over their heads. At every turn, there seemed to be more news, whether it was suspensions, appeals or lawsuits and court hearings.

There was the Drew Brees saga of the offseason that involved a lengthy holdout that kept him out of organized team activities and minicamp, putting him behind the eight-ball to begin the season on the same page as his teammates.

And then there was the 0-4 start, the 0-3 stretch in the second half of the season and the frustrating final game – all energy-sapping in their own ways.

No, Sunday was not how the Saints wanted to finish the season and no, 7-9 is not where New Orleans’ locker room and coaching staff planned on finishing.

They set a record for defensive futility, allowing 7,042 yards, the most in a single season in NFL history.  Four teams racked up 500-plus yards of offense alone.

The offense was inefficient and inconsistent Sunday and for big stretches of the season.

But as your parents and coaches always told you, it’s what you learn from an experience that makes you a better person and a better team.

That’s the message Brees delivered late Sunday afternoon.

“We didn’t finish this thing today the way we wanted to and that’s disappointing, that’s extremely disappointing,” Brees said, no doubt talking to his teammates through the media. “I know the core group we have here is the right core group.”

He went on.

“We just have to believe what happened this year will serve us well in the future and it’s going to allow us accomplish things in the future that we would not have been able to had we not gone through what we went through this year and learn the things we did this year.”

There is no better learning experience than what the Saints went through this year.

No one in the Saints’ locker room had anywhere to turn to find out how to deal with what they dealt with this year, a point that right tackle Zach Strief made after Sunday’s loss.

What he does know, and what several players echoed afterwards, is that the right people are around to repair what ails the team.

“Everything can be fixed,” Strief said. “I think there’s a lot of talent in this locker room and I think we have the right character and the right guys in here to get it fixed. I don’t think there’s anything that we can’t fix.”

That includes coach Sean Payton, who came to an agreement in principle with the Saints on Friday. The beefed up and fit coach – he appeared as healthy and in shape as he has been since taking over in New Orleans when seen at the Arena the other night – will be raring to go when he’s finally reinstated by the NFL this winter.

He’ll find a team with a gigantic Louisiana-sized chip on its shoulder and one that will be fresh and ready to prove that 2012 was an aberration.

“To not go through any of the stuff, any of the distraction, knowing who is going to be the football field, not having something come out every single week, I think that’s going to be enjoyable,” linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “And I cannot wait for that.”

Come April, when offseason workouts begin, the Saints will have a clean slate barring any unforeseen earth-shattering revelations. And, unlike this year, they’ll have no questions to answer.

“I think what happens and what you do in the offseason is going to dictate what you do during the season,” Vitt said.

The Saints learned that lesson this season.

Come September, we’ll see if they learned another one.

Only 252 days to go before we begin to know.

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