Perry Fewell was forced this week to review a game he would prefer never to have seen again, the Giants' 49-24 loss to the Saints in New Orleans on Nov. 28, 2011.
"I want to forget about that game, because they kicked the (crap) out of us," Fewell said today.
Give that man a gold star for honesty. The lopsided loss in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was the low point of the Giants' 2011 championship season. New Orleans' 49 points were the most allowed by the Giants since a 50-21 loss to Washington on Sept. 19, 1999. The Saints gained 577 total yards, the second-highest total ever allowed by the Giants and the most they had surrendered in 68 years. On Nov. 14, 1943, the Chicago Bears gained 682 yards vs. the Giants.
Fewell and the rest of the defense had to relive that unpleasant outing this week because on Sunday, the Saints will visit MetLife Stadium. New Orleans, playing all season without suspended head coach Sean Payton, hasn't been as successful this season as it has in recent years. The Saints started 0-4, lost their last two games and are 5-7 overall. But their offense, led by quarterback Drew Brees and complemented by a deep cast of wide receivers, tight ends and running backs, is still among the NFL's most lethal. New Orleans is ranked sixth in the league in yards per game (386.4) and is tied for fifth in scoring (26.8 points a game).
For the 7-5 Giants to guarantee they will still be atop the NFC East on Sunday night, they must find a way to keep Brees and Co. from lighting up the scoreboard.
"He's going to air it up," linebacker Chase Blackburn said. "He's obviously one of the best in the game."
"I would never say there's anything easy about playing against him," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "He's one of the best quarterbacks in this league and we definitely have our work cut out for us for sure."
Brees leads the NFL with 31 touchdown passes and is second with 3,674 yards. He has many talented targets to throw to, including wide receivers Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore, tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Darren Sproles. The Saints also have talented runners in Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory.
"They have a lot weapons," safety Stevie Brown said. "They have a lot of ways to hurt you, so you just can't focus on one person or one particular thing. There are a lot of options, so you have to be sound every time."
"Their backfield is something that we're going to have to defend," said defensive end/linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka. "We're going to have to pay a lot of attention to it. We just can't pay attention to a quarterback, but we're up for the challenge. We've seen great runners, we've seen great receivers and we've seen great quarterbacks. It's all about us and if we play up to our standards, then we'll be all right."
Not only will the Giants attempt to keep New Orleans out of the end zone, they'll be well served if they don't let the Saints anywhere near the goal line. New Orleans has scored touchdowns on 26 of 37 trips inside their opponents' 20-yard line, an NFL-best 70.3 percent success rate.
"It's definitely going to be hard," Brown said. "He's a very accurate passer. He has a lot of weapons around him. He's able to read coverages very well. He has a lot of positives. He's a great quarterback, so there's definitely a lot of game planning and studying and everything that you have to do to stop someone like him."
But Brees has hardly been flawless. He's thrown 16 interceptions, tying him with Indianapolis rookie Andrew Luck for first in the league in that undesirable category. Two of his picks were returned for touchdowns in a loss to San Francisco on November 25. Last week, Brees threw a career-high five interceptions and the Saints fell in Atlanta, 23-13. Brees' NFL-record streak of 54 consecutive games with a touchdown pass ended in the Georgia Dome.
"I was hoping we would be able to break his touchdown streak, but obviously he got that broke," Blackburn said. "I would really love if we can do that again."
To do that, the defense must return to the form it displayed two weeks ago vs. Green Bay. The Giants sacked Aaron Rodgers five times, intercepted one of his passes and shut out the Packers in the second half on their way to a resounding 38-10 triumph. That is the kind of performance the Giants believe they must have every week if they are to make a charge at another title. And they believe they can play at that high level.
"I don't think we've played dominant on a consistent basis," safety Antrel Rolle said. "We can definitely go out there and have a little bit more dog in us, attack a lot more, be more physical. Against Green Bay, we showed that dog mentality. We just need to keep that at a more consistent basis."
"We need to play better," Umenyiora said. "We need to play better on the football field, period, mentally, physically, everything. We're just not playing as well as we're accustomed to and we're not playing as well as we should. I don't think it's us going out there trying to be nasty or hurt people or be mean. We just need to get our coverage right. We need to get our pass rush right. Offensively, we need to move the ball and score touchdowns. Everybody needs to do their job and that's pretty much what it boils down to."
The Giants traveled to New Orleans in both 2009 and 2011 and lost by 21 and then 25 points. They hope to get a little assistance from the weather and believe the Saints won't be as comfortable outside their dome on a chilly and perhaps wet December evening.
"We hope there's a difference," Umenyiora said. "We're hoping for as cold as it can possibly be this weekend, rain, all that good stuff so they won't be able to operate quite as effectively as they do indoors. But they're still a good offense. They've got good players and they're going to be prepared no matter what."
The Giants better be as well. This week, Rolle said the Giants' defense needs to play nastier and Jason Pierre-Paul used the word "soft" in describing the unit's recent play. Fewell did not take issue with either comment and hopes his unit can come together and play to its capability.
"I think (Rolle) is trying to send a message to our guys that it's December, and that we really have to ball right now," Fewell said. "We have to do what we need to get done to win these football games. I think that was his message. When you play this game, when you play professional football, you're not a soft person. This is hard-hitting, this is a man's game. Anybody that steps on that field, they're a man. I think he's trying to send a message that it's time to get going, boys, it's December and we have to do a much better job than we've been doing."
With four games remaining and a one-game lead in the standings, they need to start Sunday.