With some resolution to Bountygate, the Saints finally can begin giving full attention to what matters in the final three weeks of the regular season, which is … not much, really.
Coming off a 13-3 season that ended in a heartbreaking loss to San Francisco, it was playoffs or bust in New Orleans. If Seattle and Chicago win this Sunday, the Saints will be officially eliminated from postseason consideration even if they beat Tampa Bay. And if New Orleans remains technically alive after week 15, it almost certainly will be out of the picture by the end of Week 16.
At this point, the Saints are playing for nothing more than pride.
“We have a prideful group in this locker room,” running back Mark Ingram said. “Our focus going forward is just getting better every single day and improving individually. We've had three straight losses. It would be nice to close the season with three straight wins.”
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In the last three weeks, the Saints have committed 11 turnovers, with Drew Brees throwing nine interceptions.
“We're pressing,” interim coach Joe Vitt said. “We have to let it go and let it flow. Play hard, play smart and play together and do the things we do in practice every day.”
Whether it was pressing or simply not preparing, the Saints were dreadful on kickoff coverage against the Giants on Sunday, turning what was otherwise an even game statistically into an embarrassing 52-27 loss. New Orleans gave up its four longest kickoff returns of the season in the same game, including a 97-yard touchdown.
Vitt dismissed effort as an issue.
“If you're talking about kickoff coverage, lane integrity is the No. 1 thing and No. 2 is leverage,” he said. “You have to leverage the football and not the blocker, and you have to make sure you're in the proper lanes and you can't piggyback one another. They broke down [Sunday].”
The defense, which had played significantly better the previous four weeks, had some breakdowns against the Giants, too, but the mistakes on offense and special teams put Steve Spagnuolo's group in an impossible situation.
The Giants had 48 snaps in Saints territory, more than two-thirds of their total plays.
Still, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was disappointed New York scored touchdowns on four of its five possessions that reached the New Orleans 20.
“We've had our struggles, but when other phases struggle we have to somehow find a way to rise up,” Spagnuolo said. “We have to make them kick field goals.”
Momentum doesn't usually carry into the following season, but Vitt wants to see progress during the final three weeks.
“This is the first time since I've been since '06 that we're not playing for a playoff spot,” he said. “The aspirations and the goals of this organization will never change. We come to work every day to get better to win a world championship. I told the team today there are two types of Super Bowl winners -- those who win (again) and those who only win one. Everything we do from here on out goes into the process of winning the next Super Bowl.”
Follow Saints reporter Guerry Smith on Twitter @CBSSaints.