EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When the New Orleans Saints are limited to 13 points, it’s easy to point a finger at No. 9 and say it’s Drew Brees’ fault.
Well guess what? The 37-year-old quarterback wasn’t all that bad Sunday in a 16-13 loss to the New York Giants.
Brees didn’t throw any interceptions and the Saints didn’t turn the ball over. The offense just could not get it going against a revamped Giants defense.
Big bucks went a long way in fixing a unit that allowed 52 points and surrendered seven touchdown passes to Brees and the Saints last year in a 52-49 win by New Orleans.
And just maybe, the Giants’ defense is that good this year after spending $100 million in the offseason to sign sack threat Olivier Vernon, run stopper Damon Harrison and shutdown cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Add in cornerback Eli Apple and safety Darian Thompson in the draft, and this unit held its own against Brees.
“Both teams went out and made improvements on the defensive side of the ball,” said Brees, who completed 29 of 44 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown. “Both sides came in with a great game plan and so we knew it was going to be a hard-fought game. We thought our output would be better offensively than it was today.”
The Saints had chances, but they did not capitalize. They were 3 of 13 on third down and that was a major factor in the game. The Saints only had the ball for 59 plays and just under 26 minutes in time of possession, gaining 288 yards.
In last year’s game, New Orleans had a combined 79 runs and passes and 35 minutes of possession. They gained 614 net yards.
That’s 20 extra plays and Brees can do a lot with that.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we got the job done as a defense. I’m happy, and it’s going to get better,” Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. “We’re still trying to get chemistry with each other. As a unit, we still have a lot of work to do. The vibe is totally different. We know what it takes and it’s not an individual goal but to correct the mistakes that we made.”
Brees was frustrated, especially wasting a great effort by his own defense, which forced three turnovers and did not allow a touchdown. New York’s TD came on Jenkins’ return of a blocked field goal.
“If you told me prior to the game that we would get three takeaways defensively and not allow an offensive touchdown, I’d say our chances today are pretty good,” Brees said. “The unfortunate thing is that the blocked field goal that gets returned for a touchdown is a 10-point swing. So that’s pretty devastating when you look at the way the game unfolded and then the way it finished.”
The Giants did an outstanding job of keeping the Saints’ receivers in front of them. In last year’s game, Brees’ three longest touchdowns were 53, 34 and 26 yards. His longest completion on Sunday was 23 yards.
New York also made the Saints one-dimensional, limiting their running game to 41 yards on 13 carries. The Saints had 103 on 26 carries last season.
“We stopped the run and we were definitely getting Brees off of his spot, so that he doesn’t see those open receivers if he has any and just make a play when he throws the ball,” said safety Landon Collins, who had one of the Giants’ two sacks.
Giants coach Ben McAdoo said the key for the Giants was keeping the ball away from Brees.
“They played fantastic, whistle-to-snap,” McAdoo said of his defense. “We got lined up quickly. We made sure we had our eyes where they needed to be. They played the call and they played with confidence.”
Brees had a couple of chances against the defense, but he did not come through.
“I think that I didn’t do a great job of handling some of their third-down pressure stuff to sustain drives,” Brees said. “We got into some third-and-long situations, or third-and-longer than probably we should have. So first- and second-down efficiency can be better and then, obviously, just the ability to sustain drives and keep them on the field and keep our defense off the field and get points at the end of it.”