The last time the New Orleans Saints lost a game in November was back in 2008, the year before they finally put it all together and claimed the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
A sparkling 5-0 November record fueled a 13-3 regular-season finish in 2009, and they were 3-0 in the season’s penultimate month a year ago en route to an 11-5 mark and second straight trip to the playoffs.
With two more November wins before their bye last week, the Saints have won 10 in a row in a month that coach Sean Payton and his players view as crucial to their success at season’s end.
After defeating NFC South foes Tampa Bay and Atlanta, they have one more opportunity this season to add to the streak.
In what has suddenly become a huge game for both teams, the Saints (7-3) will attempt to make it 11 straight Monday when they go against the New York Giants (6-4) at 7:30 p.m. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Saints need a victory to push their lead in the NFC South to one game after the Falcons (7-4) beat the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. On the other hand, a Giants’ win would allow them to tie the Dallas Cowboys (7-4) at the top of the NFC East standings.
So even though both teams will have five games to play in the regular season after Monday night, this matchup will impact two division races in the NFC and possibly have a bearing on the wild-card race as well.
But for the Saints, it’s not just another game. It’s a November game.
“We put a lot of emphasis on that,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said of playing well in November. “How do you differentiate each game from one another and make it the most important game? How do you make each month the most important month of football?
“For whatever reason, over the last few years especially, we’ve just really emphasized the month of November being the time when the contenders kind of separate themselves from the pretenders.”
Brees went on to explain that November success, while creating some separation with the rest of the division, can springboard a team into its December schedule and build momentum for the end of the season — including a playoff run.
While topping two division foes in the Bucs (27-16) and Falcons (26-23 in overtime) was big, the Saints know how vital the game with the Giants is at this point in the season.
The Giants, who were 1-3 in November in 2009 and 2-2 last season and missed the postseason both times, are 1-2 this year after falling to the San Francisco 49ers (27-20) and Philadelphia Eagles (17-10) the last two weeks.
As a result, they’re approaching the Saints’ game with a sense of urgency.
“Obviously, these guys are coming off of two tough losses with the last one being at home against a divisional opponent, so there’s an extreme sense of urgency,” Brees said. “All that means is we know we have to play one of our best football games of the year. Execution is going to be key.”
The Giants insist they’re not thinking about the last two games, or what lies ahead of them.
“You prepare for this game, you get ready for the Saints and that’s all you can do,” said quarterback Eli Manning. “You have to keep your focus and mindset on the goal, and that is to just win this game.
“It’s not about who our next opponent is or what the standings are in the division. All we can worry about is the New York Giants and get ready to play the next game.”
Unlike seasons past, the Giants are struggling to run the football and rank 31st in the league with just 83.2 yards per game as leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw will miss his fourth straight game with a fractured foot.
Backup Brandon Jacobs, a former Assumption High School star, averages just 3.0 yards per carry, putting additional pressure on Manning.
Manning, however, has responded with one of his better seasons. He’s completed 62.0 percent of his passes for 2,952 yards with 18 touchdowns and only nine interceptions for a passer rating of 94.7.
“I would definitely say that I have seen a progression in his play,” Payton said of Manning. “Clearly, he is one of the leaders of that team and he’s having an outstanding season, especially because they haven’t had the success running the football that they have had.
“Two big allies to a quarterback,” he added, “are good defense and the ability to run the football.”
In this case, one out of two has the Giants hanging in there.
The defense has held its own despite numerous injuries at linebacker and in the secondary. They’re tied for fourth in the league with 31 sacks and are in the top 10 with 14 interceptions — including four by former LSU cornerback Corey Webster.
But the defensive line is Payton’s main concern.
Ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora have 10? and seven sacks, respectively, and Justin Tuck, who has added two sacks, is another formidable pass rusher.
“They lead the league in sacks as a position group,” Payton said of the ends. “These guys can rush the passer very well without having to rely on pressure and they have played very well this year when you look at their numbers. It’s impressive.”
The Saints announced last week that enhanced security screenings, which were recommended by the NFL office earlier this season, will be in place Monday night. The measures include hand-held metal-detecting wands and/or pat downs, and may result in longer lines at entry points to the Superdome. Fans are encouraged to arrive early.