NEW ORLEANS — The biggest comeback wasn’t the Saints rebounding from a 14-point deficit to beat the Eagles in Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game at the Superdome.
Rather, it was Eli Apple’s season that started at 1-6 with the Giants and has brought him to the doorstep of the Super Bowl with his new team.
“Man, it’s definitely a blessing,” Apple said after the Saints’ 20-14 victory. “Never take anything for granted because you just never know. Every day has been a blessing to be here.”
Apple, a first-round draft pick of the Giants in 2016, was traded to the Saints for a fourth-round pick after Week 7. Now he’s a big part of a defense that shut down the Eagles for the final 49:37 of Sunday’s game.
It’s been an adjustment, he said, but he’s been welcomed by the Saints and a secondary that includes several players he knew well from college, including two former Ohio State teammates in cornerback Marshon Lattimore (who had two key interceptions Sunday) and safety Vonn Bell.
Apple said he was not shocked when the Giants traded him. He’d been hearing rumors about his departure for a while. Heck, there were many who thought the team would cut ties to him after last season, when he was suspended for the final game of a subpar year.
Instead, the Giants did him a huge favor by trading him to a winning team.
The biggest difference between the Giants and Saints?
“The energy here is way different,” he said. “Of course with winning and all, that has a lot to do with it, but I feel like everybody is super-excited coming to work each day. They make it fun. Practice is always super-competitive, but that benefits us on game day.”
Apple didn’t make many plays in this game. He had four tackles and broke up a pass in the fourth quarter to help end an Eagles drive.
His biggest contributions may have been what he brought with him from the Giants: a fairly intimate knowledge of Nick Foles and the Eagles’ receivers.
“They like to say they’re familiar with me,” Apple said, clearly having heard the comments from Eagles receivers who were excited to face him, “but it goes both ways. I’ve been playing them twice every year for three years . . . It always feels really, really good to beat them.”
Ah, yet another difference between the Giants and Saints. As a Giant, he hadn’t been in a win over the Eagles since his rookie year. Since he joined the Saints, he’s beaten them twice.
“That’s all that matters,” he said.
Apple’s fascinating season has at least one more week as the Saints will play the Rams in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday. It’ll be a home game for the Saints and, Apple said, a home game for himself. Only three months after joining the team, he feels as if he is putting down roots.
“Coming over here and feeling the family love that I got from day one is amazing,” he said. “I’m super-happy to be here now and be in the position I am now. It’s a great feeling.”