Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter
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MINNEAPOLIS ― New Orleans' 2006 season will always hold a special place in Saints' fans hearts for what it meant to them and the city.

But it belied the fact that the Saints were a bit green behind the ears, experiencing success a little bit sooner than maybe they expected.

In the following two seasons, New Orleans went a combined 15-17, missing the playoffs both years.

Now, as the Saints prepare for today's noon game against the Vikings, it's easy to look back at Payton's initial three-year period as an educational one.

'You have to learn how to handle prosperity and learn how to be successful and sustain that successful level,' quarterback Drew Brees said.'(The) 2006 (season) was an unbelievable year, an extremely special year and yet the expectations going into '07 were so great coming off of the NFC Championship game, not to say that we didn't know how to handle it but none of us had ever been in that position before.

'We were all new.We were all kind of beginners, so I think it took some of the growing pains of 2007 and 2008 for us to be strengthened and harden ourselves a little bit and also gain some of that wisdom and experience that it takes to sustain a successful franchise organization for a period of time.'

Wisdom they did gain, in fact.

It was just two short years ago the Saints experienced success again, figuring out a way to beat the Vikings in the NFC championship game and then the Colts in the Super Bowl.

The question was, after finding success again, would the Saints regress like they did after the '06 season, going 15-17 in the next two years.

The answer is unequivocally no. New Orleans has run off three consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins, a first in franchise history.

New Orleans is in the playoffs for the third straight season, only the second time in club history that has happened.

And while the Saints have gone 21-9 since the Super Bowl, the two teams New Orleans faced with the most on the line the Vikings and Colts have gone 8-21 and 10-20, respectively.

'It's a fluid business and you don't take anything for granted and all of us recognize how quickly or how difficult it is to win each week or to put together seasons that give you a chance to play in the playoffs,' Payton said.'We recognize that that's very difficult. Each year there's a new challenge.'

The Saints don't plan on being finished anytime soon.

Right now, they're currently in position to win the NFC South for the second time in three seasons. They're also in place to pounce on the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye should San Francisco falters.

But that's only if the Saints play up to their potential.

Today's game could present a trap, coming a week before the divisional showdown with Atlanta, when a win would seal the NFC South.

Yet, with the leadership in place in New Orleans from '06 to now Brees, Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, linebacker Scott Shanle, to name a few the Saints likely won't overlook the Vikings despite their being nine games under .500.

The lessons of '07 and '08 have shone through during the current five-game win streak.

'When you've got good guys that just want to win and good players that are not selfish and want to play within the team, I think your chances go up tremendously and I think Sean did a good job of bringing those type of guys in when he came,' receiver Devery Henderson said.

Added Shanle, 'More than anything, when you look at how we've been able to keep a lot of the same guys together who started the process and be able to use those learning experiences all the way along the way to help you win games I think has been a big part of the reason why.'

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