There's nothing pollyannish about the New Orleans Saints' current predicament, and quarterback Derek Carr doesn't pretend there is as the Saints (8-8) enter the regular-season finale against the Falcons (7-9) on Sunday in the Caesars Superdome.
"You are what you've earned in this league," Carr said Wednesday. "This is what we've earned.
"For us the mind-set is the same as it's been the last few weeks. It's a playoff mentality, it's win or go home for us. We're playing a team this week that beat us (24-15 in Atlanta on Nov. 26).
"If that doesn't get your attention Sunday night after the game (against Tampa Bay), I don't know what will. We've got a great challenge in front of us to try to beat somebody that we didn't beat earlier this year."
But, Carr notes, the Saints have given themselves a chance to get into the playoffs. Regardless of how slim the percentages are, there are avenues that could allow the Saints to end their playoff drought at two years.
And the collection of scenarios that would need to unfold for New Orleans to enter the postseason mainly includes a central caveat: The Saints must win Sunday.
That greatly would be assisted by the continued clean play of the quarterback, who, in the last four games, has completed 73 percent of his passes for 1,010 yards and 10 touchdowns, with an interception, as New Orleans rallied from a 5-7 record to 8-8.
"I'm just so proud of the growth that we've made, to fight back to have this opportunity," Carr said. "That's really how we've been looking at it. We put ourselves in that position, but we fought back and earned the right to be playing for something at the end of the year.
"It didn't start how we wanted it to start, but it's starting to look like how we wanted it to look like. So hopefully, we can take care of business this week. We can't control anything outside of that. That's what we've earned. But it is getting better, it has improved – a lot, especially in some situational things."
Perhaps most prominent, since going 0 for 5 in the red zone in the loss to Atlanta, which dropped the season total to 17 of 40, New Orleans has scored touchdowns on 11 of 14 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
"I would say the last half of the year it has been a lot better, and I think we continue to improve," Carr said. "And that's always time on task, players getting to know each other. We've talked a big deal this year about communication with me and a few guys.
"I just feel like all that is growing and getting better and that's a great sign. That's a great sign for things to come, but we're not done yet. We've still got one more promise to us and we're trying to earn more.
"I definitely think the last half of the year has been better, we've improved and we've started to do things where I think it's what it's supposed to look like here for the future."
The Saints are hoping to extend their present as Carr hopes to extend his most efficient, healthiest stretch of games this season.
"I will say I'm feeling better," he said. "But everyone is also doing the right thing more often. There's a lot that goes into that. Ever since that Green Bay game it's been a struggle, I've been honest about that, it's been a struggle physically. But the last – I don't know the weeks – I have felt better, and hopefully, that continues. Because we're going to need it, especially against this team."