by sheldon mickles
December 23, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — A 10-day gap between games near the end of a long NFL season is a gift for most players.
For Drew Brees, it was a curse.
One of the worst games of his 12-year pro career couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time — on a Thursday night.
So after tossing a career-high five interceptions in the New Orleans Saints’ 23-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 29, a wounded Brees had to wait an extra long time to try to make amends.
“That’s the part that’s really frustrating, because it’s not like you get right back on the field and go back to work,” Brees said. “I definitely did what I needed to do in order to get myself in the state of mind to have a great week of preparation, and get ready to go out and play a big game.”
In that case, Brees hopes the extra time spent analyzing what went wrong that night pays off when he and the Saints (5-7) finally get back on the field at 3:25 p.m. Sunday to face the New York Giants (7-5) in MetLife Stadium.
Playing the reigning Super Bowl champions while on the brink of elimination from the NFC wild-card chase qualifies as a big game for the Saints, who must win their final four games to retain any hope of making the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.
Before they could do that, Brees made sure he took something away from his dreadful night in Georgia.
“I probably hung onto that Atlanta loss a little bit more than normal because we had more time,” he said. “I dug deep to find where I can make the corrections and how we can move on from that.”
The odds of him having a solid bounce-back performance, even against the Giants — especially the Giants — are much greater than the Saints making the playoffs.
In seven seasons with the team, Brees has thrown three or more interceptions nine times. But he’s made his next opponent pay for it, completing 71.0 percent of his passes for 2,612 yards with 20 touchdowns to six interceptions and a passer rating of 108.2.
More importantly, the Saints are 8-1 in those nine games.
He’s had similar passing numbers against the Giants in a Saints uniform.
In three games against them — all wins — Brees has connected on 60 of 100 passes for 864 yards with nine TDs and no interceptions while helping put 127 points on the scoreboard.
“I just think, for whatever reason, that’s the way it has worked out,” Brees said. “Those have been games where we’ve been able to execute very well. For whatever reason, we’ve been able to have success.”
Part of it can be attributed to the Saints’ offensive line. The Giants, who annually are among the NFL’s best in sacking the quarterback with a bevy of speedy pass rushers, have gotten to Brees just once in the three games.
This season is no different with Brees having to make sure the Giants’ top three defensive ends — All-Pro Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora — are accounted for on every play.
Pierre-Paul already has 271/2 sacks in just three seasons with 61/2 in the first 12 games this year. Umenyiora, who’s battled injuries the past few seasons, has five and Tuck three.
“They are a group you want to be able to control the tempo of the game against and try to stay in the most favorable positions as much as possible,” Brees said. “If you get into a bunch of pass-only downs, third-and-long situations, that plays right into their hands and strengths.”
The focus, however, is on his own play after throwing two pick-sixes in the game before playing the Falcons — giving him seven interceptions in his last two outings.
If anyone knows what Brees is going through, it’s Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
The two-time Super Bowl MVP hasn’t enjoyed the kind of season he’s had in the past with only 16 TDs and 11 interceptions. In a recent three-game stretch he threw four interceptions and no touchdowns, but has come back in the last two games with four TDs and no picks.
“I got to watch a little bit of the (Atlanta) game, and there were some tipped balls and different things going on,” Manning said. “There are days where everything is going well and you have great calls being made against the right coverage.
“You have good protection, guys are getting open and it seems easy,” he added. “Some days things are tough and you have to live with both of them.”
Like the Saints, the Giants are trying to get on track after losing three of their last four games to see a comfortable lead in the NFC East race shrink to one game.
But while they have an opportunity to win the division or secure a wild-card, the Saints are just trying to give themselves a chance going down the stretch.
“You have to have that dream, those aspirations, as a team,” strong safety Roman Harper said. “We know what’s ahead of us.
“We’ve won a lot of games around here in the past and we just have to believe and not let any doubt drift in.”
The Saints on Saturday added running back Chris Ivory to their injury report with a hamstring injury. He is doubtful for Sunday’s game. … Tackle Charles Brown (knee) and cornerback Corey White (knee) will not play.