METAIRIE — The New Orleans Saints know they are long shots to make the playoffs even if they beat the New York Giants on Sunday.
Still, they haven’t given up — taking inspiration from the Giants, who last season made a postseason run from a position similar to one in which the Saints find themselves now.
“We saw what they did last year,” Saints cornerback Jabari Greer said. “We know that it’s possible.”
The Giants were on the verge of dropping their fifth game in a row and falling two games behind the Cowboys in the NFC East with three games left. But they went on an improbable run from playoff outsider to Super Bowl
The Giants finished the regular season 9-7. The Saints can get to 9-7 by winning their last four games. Even if they do, New Orleans still would need help to reach the playoffs, but the first step is controlling their end.
“Obviously the margin for error is very tight,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “We understand that if we want a shot at postseason play, we probably have to win out. We’re playing the defending world champs in their house, and the last three don’t mean anything unless we win this one.
“The Giants have played in these types of games — playoff games before the playoffs. That’s kind of the situation we’re in.”
The Saints will have one clear advantage on the Giants: four days of extra rest. New Orleans lost at Atlanta last Thursday and had the weekend off. New York (7-5) lost an emotional division game at Washington on Monday night.
“As everybody knows, football is a tough game, so the more time you have to rest your body is obviously better,” Saints defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis said. “But there are plenty of teams that come off a short week and win, and there are plenty of teams that lose them. It just depends on how prepared you are to play the game.”
The Saints are banking on a return to form by Brees and the steady improvement of a defense that played its best game of the year against Atlanta.
Brees is trying to rebound from one of the worst two-game stretches of his career. San Francisco intercepted back-to-back passes and returned them for touchdowns Nov. 25, rallying to beat New Orleans 31-21. He threw a career-high five interceptions against Atlanta, and his botched clock management at the end of the first half cost the Saints at least a field goal as they scored a
season-low 13 points.
Brees had thrown 24 TD passes and only five interceptions in his previous eight games.
“I understand the importance of taking care of the football,” he said.
“Certainly the last two weeks there have been an inordinate amount of turnovers. That’s something that can’t happen and something I have to fix. But as far as me being cautious and conservative, that’s not going to happen. You stay aggressive, you stay confident. If you don’t have that as a quarterback in this league, you can’t play.”
While Brees struggled, the defense held Atlanta to 283 yards — 92 fewer than any other New Orleans opponent. The Falcons had a stretch of five consecutive possessions without a first down.
Although the Saints still are on pace to break an NFL record for yards allowed in a season, they have become more comfortable in new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme.
“Everybody has a better understanding of exactly what they’re doing on the field and what’s expected of them in any given call,” Ellis said. “We’re finally starting to jell together. I wish it could have been a lot earlier, but that this point, we’ll take what we can get.”
The next task is duplicating that performance against New York, whose lead on the NFC East has shrunk from 2½ games in early November to one over Dallas and Washington. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said this week his team might have to win its last four to claim the division, putting as much pressure on New York as New Orleans.
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