Giants looking to keep lead in NFC East; Saints' facing must-win contest in playoff race

The New York Giants seemingly are getting a break this week.

Instead of spending a week worrying about Robert Griffin III running left, pitching right, throwing screens and slants and making life miserable, all the Giants have to deal with Sunday is Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.

At least that's the way Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul sees it in what might end up as bulletin board material in New Orleans.

Pierre-Paul's logical was simple: Brees is a magnificent pocket passer with a highly-talented offense. He can be hit, though, while RG3 is just too elusive.

"I hate playing it," defensive end Pierre-Paul said of facing Griffin and Redskins' option attack. "So now going up to like a traditional offense, we know what we're going to probably get, and it's much easier.

"Having an option quarterback, coming from college, and the kid's fast, man. I'm getting old, you know? It should be much easier this weekend."

Easier was a poor choice of words for the Giants (7-5) when it comes to Brees. He has thrown eight touchdown pass and no interceptions in leading the Saints to a pair of lopsided wins over New York in 2009 and last season in games at the Superdome. The quarterback has never lost to New York.

Pierre-Paul's comments Wednesday drew an immediate clarification from coach Tom Coughlin and teammates Thursday.

Coughlin maintained that Pierre-Paul did not mean to say that playing the Saints (5-7) and Brees was either easy or easier than facing Griffin. He felt his player was saying that preparing for Washington's option attack forces defenses do more than for a standard offense.

"It's not in any way that Drew Brees isn't an excellent player, because he wouldn't do that," Coughlin said.

Defensive end Osi Umenyiora knows how well the Giants have done against Brees.

"I have played against Drew Brees four times in my career and, you know, they have been blowouts every single time," he said. "I wouldn't' say there is anything easy about playing against him. He's one of the best quarterbacks in this league and we have our work cut out for us for sure."

Umenyiora said the only difference in facing Brees is that the Giants' defensive does not have to prepare for the option. He said the Saints have a lot of protections up front, their receiving corps of Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and tight ends Jimmy Graham and David Thomas is top flight and running backs Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram are outstanding.

"It's probably a tougher game physically than against Washington," Umenyiora said.

The difference will be the Saints are coming to MetLife Stadium for an outdoor game late Sunday afternoon with temperatures expected in the 40s with a chance of rain.

"We've won big games on the road before," Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said. "We've played in bad weather games. We've played in the snow in Cincinnati two years ago. I know that we lost a heartbreaker to Seattle in a playoff game and it was a bad weather game. We beat the Raiders three weeks ago in Oakland. To me it's always about preparation. You go in there being a properly prepared football team and you're ready physically, mentally and emotionally. Let the whistle blow and let's see who the best team is."

The game has major playoff implications for the NFC-East leading Giants and probably is the last stand for the Saints.

Despite losing three of the last four, New York has a one-game lead over Washington and Dallas with four games to go. If it can win three, the defending Super Bowl champions probably will get to the playoffs and just as likely win the division.

However, the Giants have not been playing well and are mired in another second-half slump. They blew fourth-quarter leads against Pittsburgh and Washington and were blown out by Cincinnati the week before their bye. The only good game was an impressive win over Green Bay two weeks ago.

What they need to do is start playing fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball and get on another run, like the six-game streak last season that carried them to their second title since 2007.

"Did we want to put ourselves in this position? No, absolutely not," offensive tackle David Diehl said. "Last week was an opportunity that we lost and we can never get back, but the only way to bounce back from it is this Sunday. To come out and play this game the best we can, play smart football and come away with a win. Keep building from here. We believe in one another. We believe in the guys in this locker room. When we play our game and we're at our top, we think that nobody can stop us."

The Saints have no wiggle room. They basically have to win out to get back to the postseason for a fourth straight year. They managed to get to the .500 mark after an 0-4 start, but dropped contests to San Francisco and Atlanta. Brees threw five interceptions last week in the loss to the Falcons.

"You feel like that was an opportunity for us as a team to make up some ground and put ourselves in position where we can control our own destiny, but unfortunately now, we're kind of at the bottom end of the playoff picture," said Brees, who has thrown a league-best 31 touchdowns. "Maybe some things have to happen in our favor elsewhere and we'll see how things play out, but we know this: all we can control is our ability to play well in this game and then worry about the other three after that. We know that there's no margin for error and we've got to play well and we have to win."


AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.


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