In all of the hullabaloo over the return of Jason Pierre-Paul to the practice field on Wednesday, an essential fact was barely touched upon. The New York Giants play a critical, and difficult game on the road Sunday vs. a revitalized New Orleans Saints team that has won three of its last four, including two in a row.
After fielding a number of questions about Pierre-Paul on Wednesday, head coach Tom Coughlin spun the conversation toward Sunday's game in the Superdome.
"This has been a heckuva conversation about New Orleans," Coughlin said during a brief lull in the questioning. "That's quite a game we're about to get involved in, as you well know, and a very, very important game as well."
The Giants are 4-3 and lead the NFC East by a game over the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, both of whom are 3-4 and have byes this week. The Giants can establish just a bit of breathing room, and can get two games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2012 season with a victory.
The Giants are on the cusp on getting several key players back. Pierre-Paul has returned to practice and will be activated whenever the Giants feel comfortable that he is ready to play. Offensive tackle Will Beatty will wear pads and do scout team work this week as he moves closer to a return from a torn pectoral muscle. Wide receiver Victor Cruz, theoretically, will be back at some point. Cornerback Prince Amukamara (pectoral) is expected back for the stretch run.
Thing is, to make the returns of those players important the Giants have to win some games now. They have road games against the Saints this week and 2-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week before a Week 9 home game against the unbeaten New England Patriots.
This is where the "quite a game" part comes in.
New Orleans has not been kind to the Giants in recent years. The Giants have been blown out by the Saints in each of their last two visits, 49-24 in 2011 and 48-27 in 2009.
"They're a good offensive team, they're a good defensive team. They've improved quite a bit. Of course, they have an outstanding home situation and environment to play in," Coughlin said. "They're going to make some plays, there's no doubt about that. They average 385 yards a game, and that's with a 3-4 record. So they're going to make some plays, it's just can you take some of those plays away. And can you find ways in which to have momentum changing plays for yourself. And can we offensively step up to the task? Because it's a big one."
Listen to Brees talk about the Saints, and you realize New Orleans' season has mirrored the Giants' season in many ways.
"I feel like we've been doing things the right way and sometimes you do something with validation for the work that you're putting in and the result to be what you hope for. So I feel like all season long, guys have been working extremely hard, guys have been doing the right things, and it wasn't happening fortunately early on," Brees said on Wednesday. "We're not looking at the rest of our division. We're not looking at anything else other than just trying to get a little bit better each week. This would be a significant [win] because we were at 1-4 and not we have the opportunity to get back to 4-4 with a win this week."
Obviously, it would be significant for the Giants, as well. Can they go to New Orleans and get it done? Despite all the hoopla about JPP, that is the real story this week.