Lewis: Drew Brees' injury just final confirmation that Saints' greatest era in team history is over _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton talks to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) next to New Orleans Saints quarterback Luke McCown (7) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Superdome in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015.

We are witness to the beginning of the end.

No, not the end of the Saints 2015 season which has a wearying 14 weeks to go, 15 if you count the open date that doesn’t come until the week before Thanksgiving. When you’re in a hole you’ve never before climbed out of on the next-to-last day summer (the Saints have never made the playoffs in the previous 21 seasons when they started 0-2), that can be a long, long time.

Instead, we’re talking about the beginning of the end of a decade of unprecedented success, or at least the expectation of success, from a franchise whose first 39 years were mostly filled with futility and follies.

Monday’s reports that Drew Brees may have a damaged rotator cuff and could miss time for the first time in his 10 seasons with the Saints is just the clinching confirmation that the exhilarating run No. 9, Sean Payton and all of the others in Black and Gold who helped lift us out of our post-Katrina blues and to the euphoria of a Super Bowl championship three years later is coming to a close.

So perhaps it’s been fitting in this year of the 40th anniversary of the Superdome, and the 10th anniversary of Katrina, that tribute has been paid to the team’s most memorable moments in the building.

If Sunday’s performance against Tampa Bay is any indicator, we won’t be seeing many more of them this season.

Maybe because of Brees’ condition the Saints’ fall from grace is happening a little quicker than most of us thought, but it was inevitable. In today’s NFL, unless your coach is named Belichick, nothing lasts forever.

And we knew it.

We just didn’t want to have to admit it until we had to.

We did know that there’s a cycle of success and failure in a league built for parity. And we also knew that this was a team with a ton of question marks entering the season.

And so far, most of them have been answered in the negative.

Which should really be no surprise.

The high draft picks either traded (a No. 2 in 2011 and a No. 1 in 2012 in order to move up for Mark Ingram), taken away by the NFL in Bountygate (No. 2s in 2012 and 2013) and squandered (all but Brandin Cooks in 2014) have robbed this team of several players who presumably would be making contributions.

Trying to make up for those vacancies by threading the needle with veteran acquisitions (Champ Bailey, Anthony Spencer, Jairus Byrd, C.J. Spiller, Daniel Ellerbe, Brandon Browner) hasn’t paid off either.

And don’t forget the three starters the team parted ways with for nonfinancial reasons this offseason: Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills, Junior Galette.

They may have been locker room malcontents, but they’re missed on the field.

You can find any number of people to blame. Sometimes it’s just bad luck.

Whatever, it’s left Payton, General Manager Mickey Loomis and whoever else is calling the shots at 5800 Airline Drive scrambling to assemble a roster that includes 17 players who had never taken an NFL snap before this season, some far past their prime and some of whom looked finished before the found at home in New Orleans.

Safety Kenny Phillips, who hadn’t played a game since 2012 because of a severe knee injury, made the final cut, was waived for a week, was re-signed and wound up starting Sunday against Tampa Bay.

That’s an inspiring story. But the days when the Saints made hits on the moves that brought them players like Jonathan Vilma, Darren Sproles, Lance Moore and Darren Sharper seem like events of the distant past.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King wrote Monday that the Saints need to be blown up. But there are 25 players on this team who weren’t here in 2014, so they already have been.

Still, there was hope for this year. Hope that Brees would remain as healthy and as productive as we’ve seen him over the years, hope that the veteran newcomers would revert to their best years, and hope that the drafting players with a history of productivity and stability in college would pay off immediately.

Then two draft picks, P.J. Williams and Davis Tull, went on injured reserve before playing a regular-season snap.

Still, what the Saints have put together is not a formula for a championship contender, even in the supposedly mediocre NFC South, which now with Carolina and Atlanta at 2-0 looks far more formidable.

Payton, probably with other things on his mind, wasn’t going there Monday, saying that he is focused on winning Sunday at Carolina rather than thinking about what used to be, what might have been and what’s to come.

But then he added, “We have the roster we have right now, and Clark Kent is not walking through the door.”

Probably not.

Anybody seen any phone booths lately?

Not since 2006.