EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Spending a lot of money to sign free agents is never a guarantee that it will turn a losing team around. Sometimes, the new people just don’t work out. Sometimes, the chemistry never develops.
Two games into the NFL season, the New York Giants’ decision to sink more than $100 million into the NFL’s worst defense is working out just fine.
The Giants are off to their first 2-0 start since 2009, and the defense has played a major role, allowing a combined 32 points in wins over Dallas and New Orleans (0-2).
Steve Spagnuolo’s unit was outstanding Sunday in limiting Drew Brees and the Saints’ high-scoring offense to 288 yards in a 16-13 decision that was decided when Victor Cruz hauled in a 34-yard pass to set up Josh Brown’s winning 23-yard field goal as time expired.
“I didn’t really know what to expect to be honest,” said cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who was signed as a free agent, along with defensive end Olivier Vernon and defensive tackle Damon Harrison. “But as spring went on, I started working with guys like DRC (Dominique Rodger-Cromartie) and Eli Apple and the linebackers and we realized that we could have something special.”
The last time the Giants faced the Saints, Brees threw for 511 yards and tied a single-game NFL record with seven touchdown passes in a 52-49 win. His longest pass Sunday was 23 yards and New Orleans was limited to 3 of 13 on third down.
Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul says the defense is a lot better than a year ago.
“It wasn’t fifty-plus points,” he said. “That’s a good quarterback out there and everybody knows that. He was getting rid of the ball quickly and I was getting frustrated out there and those guys, too, were frustrated but we just had to keep our composure and got the job done.”
The Saints blamed themselves for a second straight close loss. Their defense forced three turnovers and did not allow a touchdown.
“Don’t get me wrong, that’s a good defense over there, but they didn’t do anything special to stop us,” Saints receiver Brandin Cooks said. “We felt like we bit ourselves in the foot so many times, we stopped ourselves on the offensive side.”
Things we learned as the Giants improve to 2-0 under new coach Ben McAdoo with a win over the Saints:
THE BIG THREE: There was talk throughout training camp that Eli Manning was going to have a big year if Odell Beckham Jr., rookie Sterling Shepard and Cruz could play together.
The three came through against the Saints, combining for 20 catches for 294 yards. Beckham had eight catches for 86 and drew a pass interference on the final drive. Shepard had eight catches for 117 and caught a third-down pass for 6 yards to keep the final drive alive. Cruz’s 34-yard catch came on a third-and-8 on the final drive.
“As long as we continue to understand what each other’s best roles are and what our best attributes are, and continue to do them,” said Cruz, who had four catches for 91 yards, with his longest of 40 yards, ending in a lost fumble, ” I think the sky is the limit for us.”
NOT OUT OF IT:
Despite their 0-2 start, the Saints are far from out of it. They have lost two games by a total of four points.
“We know what we can do, we know the type of performance we had on defense today kind of showed that,” cornerback Sterling Moore said. “We can go out there with anybody, no matter what talent level they have, no matter how young we are on defense. So we’re going to get frustrated, we’re going to go back to work and keep grinding.”
DON’T GET TOO EXCITED:
While the Giants are winning, they have outscored their two opponents by a total of four points. They need to improve to get back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2011 season.
And that 2009 team, it won its first five games. It finished 8-8.
Saints coach Sean Payton did not have an update on cornerback P.J. Williams after the game. The second-year player was taken off the field on a stretcher after hitting his head against tight end Larry Donnell’s knee and seconds later being hit in the back of the helmet by a helmet.
New Orleans also had right tackle Zach Strief leave with a chest injury.
Giants RT Marshall Newhouse left with a calf injury and S Mykkele Thompson had a knee injury.
Brown kicked field goals of 48, 19 and 23 yards in his return after serving a one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
“It’s good to be back,” said Brown who spent the week at home with his daughter. “Long week last week. It was hard to watch the game. It was great to be out there and be able to kick again.”
Brown refused to answer questions about his former wife’s allegations that he subjected her to domestic violence more than 20 times. No charges were filed relating to his arrest in that May 2015 incident.