Coming off the bye week, the New Orleans Saints are back in action as they host the New York Giants on Monday Night Football. The Saints (7-3) sit atop the NFC South, while the Giants (6-4) are tied for first in the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys.
The Saints took a week off to rest following a gutsy 26-23 overtime road win over the divisional rival Atlanta Falcons before getting back to the practice field on Tuesday to prepare for the Giants. Following two straight wins, New Orleans is looking to keep its one game lead over the Falcons in the NFC South. The Giants are looking to keep pace with the Cowboys in their division.
"I think it's a good spot," said S Malcolm Jenkins. "You are going 10 games straight and for us to be first in the division we are right where we want to be. We still have some more tough games to finish out, including Monday night."
New Orleans is in the middle of the toughest stretch of its schedule, in the middle of facing three straight opponents with winning records in Atlanta, New York and Detroit. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton admitted that the games played in November and December can have the biggest impact on the season.
"I think we all recognize the importance of November and December," stated Payton. "These months are critical."
After losing in St. Louis 31-21 in an uncharacteristic performance, the Saints bounced back with an impressive 27-16 showing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. New Orleans followed up with another strong performance in Atlanta with an exhausting overtime win against the Falcons. The defense came up big on a key fourth-and-one play in overtime at the Atlanta 29 yard line, getting pressure up the middle from Shaun Rogers and Will Smith to stop running back Michael Turner as the Falcons turned the ball over on downs. That stop would lead to John Kasay's 26 yard game-winning field goal to preserve the win for New Orleans. While surprised the Falcons were willing to go for the first down deep in their own territory, Saints defensive end Will Smith said he knew the game could be won or lost on that play.
"Everyone dug deep on fourth-and-one after a hard-fought game to stop them," noted Smith, who acknowledged the exhausting effect that over 36 minutes worth of game time had on the Saints defense. "We didn't realize how many plays we played. We played close to one hundred plays defensively. It was a long, hard-fought game."
Payton hopes that his rested squad hit the Mercedes-Benz Superdome field this evening, as the club hopes to extend their winning streak to three and finish November undefeated. In fact, since 2008, New Orleans is an NFL-best 12-2 in November, including not having lost one since 2009. The Giants meanwhile, have overcome the adversity of a multitude of injuries and have posted a 6-4 record, keeping a first place tie. The Giants come into New Orleans following a 17-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday evening.
The Giants have been led by one of New Orleans' own in signal-caller Eli Manning. In his eighth-year, Manning has completed 220-of-355 passes for 2,952 yards with 18 touchdown passes, 9 interceptions and a 94.7 passer rating.
With Drew Brees again among NFL leaders in most categories, having completed 299-of-422 passes for 3,226 yards with 23 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 101.3 passer rating. Star power among the two quarterbacks, both having Super Bowl MVP awards in their mantle won't be lacking in the matchup. However Brees feels that much more will go into this game. The signal-caller is much more concerned with the 31 sacks the Giants have, tied for first in the NFL.
"The Giants have an outstanding front four, and their linebackers can also get into the action," Said Brees. "They can change the direction of a game with sacks and forced fumbles. We will need to have a plan for that."
The Giants are coached by Tom Coughlin. Coming from the same Bill Parcells coaching tree as Payton, Coughlin has successfully overseen building projects as the head coach at Boston College, the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars and now the Giants. His teams have always been known for their meticulous preparation and high level of effort. 2011 is no different as Coughlin has guided the Giants a team that has suffered several injuries on both offense and defense, to sitting in a tie for the top of their division.
"Over the last several years, the Giants have consistently been a very well-coached, hard-nosed football team," said Payton. "They take on the personality of their head coach in all three phases and that will pose a big challenge for us."
The Saints and Giants have met 25 times, with New York holding a 14-11 advantage. The Saints have won the two contests between the two clubs since Payton became head coach in 2006. Monday will be only the third time in the last ten contests between the two clubs that the game will be held at the Superdome. New York won three straight over the Saints from 1997-2001, the longest win streak for either team in the series. The Saints will be trying to match that and create a three-game streak of their own tonight.
The last time the teams met was on October 18, 2009 at the Superdome, a 48-27 victory by the Saints that saw New Orleans improve their record to 5-0, in what would eventually turn into a 13-game win streak to start 2009 in their Super Bowl Championship season. In the game, the Saints racked up 493 net yards of offense against what was then the number one ranked defense in the NFL. New Orleans jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the contest and never looked back. Brees completed 23-of-30 passes for 369 yards and four touchdown passes for a 156.8 rating, as he completed 15 consecutive throws in the first half. His favorite target in the game was WR Marques Colston, who had eight receptions for 166 yards with one touchdown, his second-highest single game career total.