METAIRIE, La. – Scott Shanle thinks back to 2008 and remembers the close losses piling up.
A five-point defeat at Washington followed by a two-point loss at Denver. Three-point losses to Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Chicago and a season-ending two-point loss to Carolina.
He remembers those games setting the tone for 2009, handing the New Orleans Saints a one-word mantra – finish.
As training camp builds speed towards the 2012 season opener, Shanle can only hope a gut-punching defeat at San Francisco in the playoffs gives the team the same motivation.
But that one might be harder to learn from and to get over.
“I’ll never forget it,” Shanle said this week. “I’ll always remember 2011 as kind of a season that got away.”
And that’s the world these Saints are living in these days.
Sure, there are lessons to be learned from the loss to San Francisco.
Turning the ball over five times and giving up 13 points in the final 2 minutes, 11 seconds makes it hard to win.
It also helps to have a full roster available – Mark Ingram was on injured reserve prior to the game and Pierre Thomas was lost in the first series because of a concussion.
Not that those were new lessons and not that the Saints didn’t do nearly everything they could to land a win.
“It was a tough game, a tough loss,” offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. said. “It was hard afterwards. Our players never quit and they stayed in the game until the end. It just didn’t turn out in our favor.”
What made the loss so hard, Shanle said, was how well the Saints had been playing up to that game. They had won nine straight games by an average of 17.1 points and four straight by an average of 24 points.
Talk nationally had been about how the Saints, by the end of the season, were favorites to win the Super Bowl.
“When you can look at one particular game like that, it’s tough because you feel like you were the best team in the league last year,” Shanle said. “(The) best Saints team we’ve had since I’ve been here, including ’09.”
Nearly eight months later, Shanle thinks the only lesson to be learned from the San Francisco loss has nothing to do with the game itself.
Unlike 2008, there’s little to take from this devastating loss.
“You have to let it go,” Shanle said. “I think games like that, if you keep on bringing it up and talking about it. You can say you’re learning from it, but I think that game was so mentally catastrophic that I think you do more harm than good by continuing to bring it up.”