NEW ORLEANS The cold reality hit the Saints this week when questions focused as much on the future as it did the next three games.
New Orleans (5-8) will be stuck at home for the playoffs, watching the NFL's postseason from TV sets instead of sidelines and on the field.
But that's not keeping them from working to close out 2012 on a good note.
They hope it begins today when they host Tampa Bay (6-7) at noon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
'The goal is to win Super Bowl championships,' Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said. 'What we do from now on out goes into the process of winning the next Super Bowl that we can come out with, so we're going to practice like champions, go to meetings like champions, take notes like champions, be held accountable like champions and play like champions.'
The past three seasons have been franchise-highs for New Orleans. In 2009, New Orleans went 13-3, earned a No. 1 seed and won the Super Bowl. The following season, an 11-5 record netted New Orleans the No. 5 seed and a playoff berth. And in 2011, a 13-3 record was matched by NFL offensive records, a home playoff game and the Saints came within a goal-line stop of getting back to the NFC championship game.
However, the Saints have slid backwards this season, the weight of the bounty program investigation and Sean Payton's absence playing a large part of that.
New Orleans got off to an 0-4 start, fought back to 5-5 and have played on fumes since.
The goal now is to go 3-0 to close out the season. While it wouldn't make everything better, it would go a long way to giving the Saints positive momentum heading into the offseason.
'I think that if you finish up the season the right way, you build up momentum rolling into the offseason and then OTAs,' Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said. 'I feel like if you end things on a good note, you usually pick up on a good note.'
The Saints' season-ending schedule appears as favorable for a good result as it does a negative one. Combined, Tampa Bay, Dallas and Carolina are 17-22 and two of New Orleans' final three games come at home in the Superdome. New Orleans is 3-3 at home, but just 2-5 on the road in 2012.
Again, the goal the players say have now towards building for the future.
'You can use it as motivation,' center Brian de la Puente said. 'We didn't like the way things have turned out thus far and we need to continue to get better. Our performances this season have shown that it's not good enough to win. We need to look in the mirror and continue to keep getting better.'
And that's something quarterback Drew Brees agrees on.
'I think we would all recognize we haven't played our best football, especially down the stretch here,' Brees said. 'The only way we can make that right is by going out here these last three weeks and really putting it together the way that we know how. We want to end the season on a high note, feeling good about ourselves, feeling good about the future.'