That was the theme for a Giants defense that surrendered 52 points and seven touchdown passes in a three-point loss to the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees a year ago. It didn’t matter that only five starters on a revamped defense for Sunday’s rematch at MetLife Stadium played in that game at the Superdome.
“It was still relevant,” second-year safety Landon Collins said. “We’ll never forget what happened last year . . . We wanted to prove we’re not the defense we were last year.”
The changes the Giants have made not only in personnel but in a more aggressive attitude were there for all in a home opener crowd of 77,727 to see. The Giants’ 16-13 victory stood in stark contrast with last year’s embarrassment as they limited Brees to 263 yards on 29-for-44 passing, one touchdown and a long completion of 23 yards. For good measure, free-agent cornerback Janoris Jenkins scored on a 65-yard return of a blocked field goal.
In last year’s defensive debacle, Brees threw TD passes of 53, 34, 26, 21, 20, 9 and 2 yards. Describing the talk about it during the practice week, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said, “There was a lot. Even on Saturday in the defensive meeting, Coach said, ‘This is going to be painful to see, but I want you guys to see this.’ He showed us clips of last year’s game and the things we did bad. We saw it all the way up to yesterday.”
The Giants atoned for their sins by holding the Saints to 41 yards rushing and finding creative ways to pressure Brees. Defensive backs Collins and Leon Hall were responsible for the Giants’ two sacks. Jenkins set a tone early with his physical style when he stopped a dump-off pass to Tommylee Lewis for a 1-yard loss on third down.
“He makes a big difference,” Rodgers-Cromartie said of the free agent from the Rams. “ ‘Big Play Jenks.’ If he gets the ball in his hands, you know where he’s going.”
Sunday’s game was scoreless nearing halftime when Saints placekicker Wil Lutz lined up for a 38-yard field goal. But defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins blocked it, and Jenkins picked it up and went untouched for a 7-0 lead.
“I heard the hand hit the ball, and I just went looking for the ball and I scooped and scored,” Jenkins said. “The special teams coach preached all week that we could get a block.”
The Saints trailed 10-3 entering the final quarter, but Brees hit Willie Snead with a 17-yard TD pass and led a drive for a tying field goal. That drive stalled when rookie cornerback Eli Apple, the Giants’ first-round pick, came up big when Brees targeted him on a third-down pass to Brandon Coleman down the sideline that fell incomplete.
“I knew they were going to try me, especially on the fade [route],” Apple said. “I wanted to get physical with him and stay on his top shoulder a little bit. The throw was kind of wide, and he had to one-hand it. I just tried to make it as tough as possible.”
Holding Brees to 13 points was the measure of the Giants’ improved defense. “I played against Drew for a while and with him for a while,” Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas said, “and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that.”