NEW ORLEANS (AP) -The New Orleans Saints remained consistent in at least one regard.
After asserting they would have to win their last four games to make the playoffs, Saints players starting talking as if they had been eliminated following a 27-24 overtime loss in Chicago.
``We don't have a chance, but we're still going to play like it in the last two games because that's the makeup of the team,'' linebacker Scott Shanle said.
Technically, the Saints (7-7) remained alive for the postseason following Thursday night's loss. But they find themselves on the brink of elimination because they've struggled with consistency on the field. Despite having one of the NFL's top offenses, ranked first in yards per game (401.6), New Orleans has found it agonizingly tough to string together wins.
Only once this season have the Saints won two straight - their longest winning streak. A general pattern of alternating wins and losses left them hovering around .500 in a year when the NFC appears too tough for a team with fewer than 10 victories to make the playoffs.
Injuries to numerous regulars may be partly to blame. Reggie Bush sprained his knee during the loss in Chicago while being bumped out of bounds. Bush already had missed four games earlier this season with a knee injury.
Marques Colston, the Saints' top receiver the previous two seasons, missed five games with a thumb injury and has only recently begun to regain his old form. Tight end Jeremy Shockey missed three games because of sports hernia surgery. He has been playing in pain all season and does not have a touchdown.
Recovering from a second major knee surgery, Saints all-time rusher Deuce McAllister hasn't been effective enough - at least in coach Sean Payton's mind - to merit more than a reserve role behind Bush and Pierre Thomas. After dressing for the first 13 games, McAllister missed the Chicago game following a death in his family.
On defense, season-ending injuries took out four starters: defensive end Charles Grant, safety Kevin Kaesviharn and cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Mike McKenzie.
The kicking game was another problem. Martin Gramatica, currently on injured reserve (groin), missed a late field goal that would have given New Orleans the lead in a two-point loss at Denver. He missed another late field goal in a three-point loss to Minnesota.
s at Washington.
After all those blown chances, the Saints remain technically alive in the playoff hunt. Yet they need so much help that they don't seem interested in contemplating such scenarios.
When asked about the prospect of missing the playoffs a second straight season, linebacker Scott Fujita responded, ``Yeah, that's very frustrating.''
``We're still professionals, we get paid to do a job and we'll play these last two games,'' he added.
The Saints had seen the Chicago game as a launching pad back into the playoff conversation. Coincidentally, their season had ended in Chicago the past two years. Their 2006 season ended with a loss there in the NFC championship game. The Saints were formally eliminated from the 2007 playoffs with another loss in Chicago in their regular-eason finale.
New Orleans nearly broke the streak Thursday night, taking a late lead on Drew Brees' touchdown pass to Colston, Kyle Orton drove the Bears for a tying field goal in the final seconds. Chicago won the overtime coin toss, then safety Roman Harper was flagged for interference on a deep, third-down incompletion, putting Chicago in position for a field goal.
After Robbie Gould's kick split the uprights, the Saints again left a frigid Soldier Field with their playoff hopes dashed.
his way again in this locker room.''
Three results in particular this weekend could make what's left of New Orleans' season a little more interesting: the Giants beating Dallas (8-5), Tampa Bay beating Atlanta (8-5) and Cleveland winning Monday night against Philadelphia (7-5-1). If those results play out, the Saints would trail Chicago (8-6), Dallas, Atlanta and possibly Washington (7-6) by one game in the standings with two games to play for the last wild-card berth.
The Saints then would have a potentially meaningful game at Detroit, which might still be winless, adding further intrigue. Either way, tight end Billy Miller said the Saints have no business letting up.
``I don't care who you play for or what your record is, you're playing to win,'' Miller said. ``The playoff situation may be out of our hands, but we're still playing to win games.''

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