METAIRE, La. (AP) If Marques Colston remains with New Orleans beyond his 10th season, it'll be a testament to his ability to remain productive as the his aging body requires more rest and younger Saints receivers become more prominent.
If Tim Hightower comes back in 2016, it'll represent a triumph in his prolonged struggle to overcome complications from a serious knee injury that kept the running back out of the NFL for three years.
Their performances as the season winds down could go a long way to determining their future with New Orleans, or perhaps even in the league.
The roles both played in helping New Orleans snap a four-game skid in Tampa Bay on Sunday suggests they can still be effective the NFL - at least in spurts.
Colston made two difficult touchdown catches, as well as a leaping, drive-extending third-down grab in the fourth quarter that helped New Orleans protect a one-touchdown lead. Hightower accounted for 95 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. Seeing an increased role because of Mark Ingram's season-ending shoulder surgery, Hightower's day included 28 rushes for 85 yards.
Even though Colston, with 43 catches for 481 yards through 13 games, is on pace for one of his worst seasons statistically, Saints coach Sean Payton said Monday that the lanky, 6-foot-4, 32-year-old receiver has continued to do many things well.
''He's epitomized consistency - always been very reliable, strong hands in traffic,'' Payton said. ''You know exactly what you're getting in regards to his location, catching radius. There are so many things he's been consistent with over his career.''
Payton has been giving Colston, who is the Saints' all-time receiver, days off from practice throughout the season simply to rest. Quarterback Drew Brees doesn't throw his way as often as he once did when Colston was piling up 1,000-yard seasons en route to becoming the franchise's all-time receiver.
But Brees said Colston still comes through in the clutch.
''He caught two touchdowns, but how about that third-down catch late in the game at a critical time when we're trying to keep a drive going and eat up the clock?'' Brees said. ''He continues to do all the things that make him Marques Colston.''
Meanwhile, Saints players expressed particular satisfaction in seeing the 29-year-old Hightower score his first touchdown since 2011 while making the most of his first significant playing time in years.
''That's a credit to him and his perseverance and his drive to keep beating on the door until he just finally knocked it down,'' Saints safety Jairus Byrd said. ''I was so proud of him yesterday. You could tell how much it meant to him. It was just a big day and I'm just excited to see what he does from here on out.''
Hightower's first regular season game since 2011 came this season with New Orleans a little more than a month ago after running back Khiry Robinson's season-ending broken right leg against the New York Giants on Nov. 1.
Before this past Sunday, however, Hightower had carried the ball only 12 times for 48 yards through four games. Finally playing a significant role in a victory meant a lot to him and his loved ones, he said.
''All those people who have supported me and been on the other end of those frustrating phone calls after surgery - they felt the emotion and they knew what this journey has been and they knew the significance of it,'' Hightower said. ''You want to make people happy and make people happy that supported you and been in your corner to be able to give them something to cheer for and be proud of.''
Yet Hightower declines to discuss individual goals beyond New Orleans' Monday-night matchup with Detroit on Dec. 21.
''To even think of it as a three-game season for me would be a disservice to my team,'' Hightower said. ''What I can control is how I prepare for this next game and when that time comes, do everything I can to give my team a chance to win. ... I'll let the other things sort out when they do.''
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL