The New Orleans Saints on Sunday were eliminated from playoff contention this season, with one game remaining in the regular season.
Don't suggest the regular-season finale against Carolina in the Caesars Superdome doesn't still carry high value in it for New Orleans (7-9), which is riding a three-game winning streak, partly accomplishing its stated goal after falling to 4-9 on Dec. 5 in a loss to Tampa Bay.
"You play this game to – I don't want to sound cliché – but you play this game to win," Coach Dennis Allen said Monday. "That's what our job is. That's the chosen profession of all of us that are in the National Football League. We signed up to go and win. And so, I don't ever see that really changing around here. We're going to go into this game and do what we need to do that we feel like gives us the best chance to win."
Allen said that, obviously, there are games to lament. But not so much as to downgrade the importance of being able to compete.
"Nothing's meaningless," he said. "All these things matter. You look back and you say, 'Damn, I wish we'd have taken advantage of a couple of opportunities that we had, that we didn't take advantage of.' But there's nothing that can be done about that now.
"So how do we learn that lesson so that as we progress and go in the future, we don't put ourselves in those situations again. A lot times you can learn a lot from your failures, as much as you can from your successes. Hopefully we look at this and say, we let some opportunities slip through our fingers. No different than a game. You get in a game and you have an opportunity to put a team away and you don't do it, you give them more chances, and then you play the what-if game.
"All we can control right now is how we finish out this season. We talked about, after the Tampa game, we said, we don't control our own fate in terms of the playoffs. What we do control is how we play the last four games, and we talked about trying to go 4-0. That's still out there for us. That's where we're sitting at right now."
Allen said a key for New Orleans is a willingness to continue to fight for each other.
"A football team is most successful when they work for and play for each other – whether it be a coach-to-player relationship, coach-to- coach relationship, player-to-player relationship," he said. "We all want to win for each other.
"I take the most pride in going into the locker room after a game and seeing those guys dance around in the locker room, because I know how much they put into it. Hopefully, we all want to win this game. Those are the type of people that need to be in this organization, the ones that want to go out and win regardless of what's at stake."
ON A ROLL: New Orleans' defense has been on a heater of late – five straight games of allowing 18 points or less and seven straight of allowing 20 or less. Opponents are averaging 13.6 points per game in the last five. Removing defensive touchdowns, five of the first seven opponents this season scored at least 26 points.
"There's a process that you go through, and there was a lot of change," Allen said. "I'm in a new role, I've got some assistant coaches that are in a new role, we brought in some new players. We've had a lot of injuries in a lot of different positions and so, it's taken a little bit of time.
"But you have something you believe in, you stick with it and you keep grinding and keep working. I think what we've done here is proven that it can be successful in our league and so our guys have kind of stuck with that and I think we're seeing some of the fruits of that labor now."