Saints topple Big Blue in NFC clash for record-breaking night
Leading up to week 8, the matchup between the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints was generally overlooked as a dull, low-scoring exhibition, featuring two teams with their fair share of trouble on offense and defense alike. Drew Brees entered the Mercedes Benz Superdome merely a shell of his former elite-level quarterback ranking; a nagging shoulder injury had sidelined the shot-caller earlier in the season, and hindered his ability to zip the ball deep down the field. On the other hand, Eli Manning and the rest of the Giants’ offense had been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride, as Big Blue struggled to find consistency thus far into the season. Pre-game statistics aside, by the time the final whistle was blown, Brees and Manning had produced by far the greatest offensive display of the premature 2015-16 NFL season, let alone one of the greatest of all time.
Recently, Brees had been enduring the tough reality of professional football; a significant decline in production over the last two seasons had cast uncertainty over the 36-year-old’s future with the Saints. Age would suggest that Brees is on the wrong side of his prime. While the veteran is still considered one of the main vocal leaders on the team, there was question of whether the captain’s body was deteriorating. Not to mention, Brees had signed a massive $100 million contract in 2012, along with a $20 million salary-cap hit which has restricted the Saints’ ability to sign other high profile players.
On the other hand, Manning continued to show some improvement from his previous seasons, although it is a far cry from what the 34-year-old is capable of at his best. As new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo introduced the pass-heavy west coast offense, Manning struggled in adjusting to his pre-snap mechanics and increased workload. Furthermore, the Giants’ front office continued their passive offseason recruitment habits by failing to surround their quarterback with enough talent, especially along the offensive line, which has left Manning under duress during most offensive snaps. Now midway through the season, Manning appears more comfortable with the new offensive system, however, the offense still remains undependable. In their week-7 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, the Giants looked to Manning to engineer a win that would lift New York to first place in the NFC East. Instead, the offense was non-existent as the defense was forced to step up and ultimately win the game.
Sunday’s outing for Brees was a blunt slap in the face to all his critics, as his performance lifted the team above the stubborn offense of the Giants, all the while posting career-highs in many categories. Brees completed 40 of his 50 passes, which was good for 511 yards and seven touchdown passes. Brees tossed a pair of touchdowns to each of his young receivers Brandon Cooks and Willie Snead. Veterans Marques Colston, Benjamin Watson and offseason acquisition C.J. Spiller all recorded a receiving touchdown as well.
Although equally impressive, Manning’s outing came just shy of matching that of Brees; the New Orleans native finished with 30 for 41 in passes attempted, totaling 350 yards, six passing touchdowns and no interceptions. Manning and star wide out Odell Beckham Jr., both Louisiana natives, had a home-coming party to the tune of three touchdowns and 130 yards, including a 50-yard toss flying just over the head of the Saints’ secondary and into the hands of the awaiting Beckham. Offseason acquisition Dwayne Harris Jr. continued to impress while filling in for the injured Victor Cruz at the slot receiver position. The former Cowboys’ kick-returner left the game early with an ankle injury, but returned to haul in two touchdown passes.
Together, the two teams combined for 13 passing touchdowns (zero rushing touchdowns), for the most ever in NFL history. Both teams accounted for 101 points, ranking third-most points scored in an NFL game. Brees’ seven passing touchdowns tied the record for most touchdown passes thrown in a single game; a tie currently held by eight quarterbacks including future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning and Nick Foles. Manning’s third touchdown pass was marked the 274th of his career, elevating him over Joe Montana for the 11th spot in the all-time passing touchdown list.
The game was ultimately decided by a last-second touchdown, as recently signed kicker Kai Forbath drilled a 50-yard field goal through the uprights in the final seconds of the game. While fans celebrated the individual performances of Brees and Manning, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was furious during the post-game press conference at the atrocious defensive performance. The defense put the Giants down two touchdowns at two separate points in the game, at which Manning orchestrated a miraculous comeback to give his team a lead late in the fourth quarter. Instead of protecting the lead, the defense went on to give up the tying score with enough time on the clock for the Saints to later kick the game-winning field goal to avoid going into overtime.
While the Giants remained atop their division thanks to a fourth straight loss from the injury-plagued Cowboys and BYE weeks for the Redskins and Eagles, they are on a short leash. The team is struggling to find their identity on both sides of the ball; every week is a one-sided performance by either the offense or defense, but never a collective effort. Facing tough divisional matchups and the championship-caliber New England Patriots in the coming weeks, the Giants’ destiny solely relies on their ability to work together to engineer wins.