After years of bruising the Giants in the Superdome, the Saints had the favor returned to them today in the chilly, wet Meadowlands. A third quarter spark put a bucket of points on the board, but the Saints' rally would be snuffed out and overcome by Eli Manning, David Wilson and the dominant-for-the-day Giants offense.
In a constant light rain with temperatures dipping into the 30s, Drew Brees threw underpowered passes all day long and was picked off twice by the Giants defense. The Saints (5-8) suffered their worst defeat since 2003 and have their 2012 playoff hopes - already slim - only existing in the realm of mathematical improbabilities.
Kick return coverage for the Saints was a disaster, allowing huge returns by Giants rookie RB/KR David Wilson in the first half. The rookie from Virginia Tech started his breakout day by returning the opening kickoff 58 yards into Saints territory. Wilson scored on his next return and and picked up 52 yards on his third on his way to 227 yards on kickoff return yards. Wilson set a Giants team record with 327 all-purpose yards, including 100 yards rushing on 13 carries and three total touchdowns.
But more damaging than kickoffs were turnovers on the first two Saint possessions of the game, 10 penalties and a poor day by Drew Brees including two more interceptions. Brees finished 26/43 with 354 yards, a score and two picks, 118 of those yards in the fourth quarter with the Saints down by 15 points or more. For all those yards, the Saints who shut out in the fourth quarter, their third quarter momentum choked off in the final quarter.
WR Marques Colston coughed up a fumble on the Saints' opening drive after a 30-yard gain that would have been wiped out anyway by a holding penalty on RT Zach Strief.
But the Saints took a 7-0 lead when reserve CB Elbert Mack, back healthy from a concussion and playing as well as any of the team's embattled defensive backs, made a juggling interception on an Eli Manning pass intended for WR Jerrel Jernigan. Mack bobbled the ball at least four times as he turned upfield and returned the pick 73 yards for a touchdown on the Giants' second drive of the game.
But that lead would last only seconds - that's when Wilson responded with a 97-yard kickoff return for the tying score. Mack would be egregiously blocked in the back on the return, a penalty that should have wiped out the score.
Five plays into the Saints' second drive, a designed flare pass to FB Jed Collins saw S Antrelle Rolle poke the ball free, returned by DT Linval Joseph to the Saint 35.
Aided by a defensive pass interference call on Patrick Robinson and a defensive holding penalty on Curtis Lofton, the Giants moved to the Saint 5 and cashed in with an easy pass over the middle to TE Martellus Bennett to make it 14-7.
The Saints missed two opportunities on the next drive, with Collins making another mistake, wiping out a 16-yard end around run by Joe Morgan with a holding penalty. On the next play, Brees' pass to a wide-open Devery Henderson right sideline hung in the air. The underpowered pass allowed CB Corey Webster time to catch up and deflect the pass with a fingertip. Two plays later, Brees scrambled and tossed the ball away, but didn't get the ball back to the line. The intentional grounding penalty set up a punt on 4th and 37.
The Saints defense extracted a three-and-out from the Giants, and then the Saints offense finally put together a drive, taking over at their own five yard line following a holding penalty on the punt return by LB Will Herring.
Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas picked up a rushing-only first down after Brees smartly hurried the team to the line on 3rd and 2, allowing Thomas to plunge through for a two yard gain. Brees lofted a pass to Lance Moore running across wide open in the secondary, found Pierre Thomas for first downs on screen passes. On 3rd and 8 from the Giant 30, Brees sidestepped to expertly avoid DE Osi Umenyiora and hit Marques Colston over the middle for 12. But three plays later on 3rd and 6, WR Lance Moore stepped out of bounds before making a first down catch at the sideline, forcing a 32-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley.
That drive saw the Saints establishing a run game, with three rushes each by Thomas and Ingram to pace the drive. The Giants responded with a field goal drive of their own, moving to the Saint 17. CB Patrick Robinson made a fantastic play to leap and bat away a would-be touchdown pass on 3rd down, a rare victory for Robinson on a day when he would be beaten numerous times. Robinson's great pass breakup looked even better when Lawrence Tynes shanked the short field goal to hold the score at 14-10 with six minutes left in the first half.
The Saints took the kickoff and drove from their own 26 to the Giant 8 yard line on the strength of their runningbacks. Ingram rushed for 6 and 8, Brees hit Thomas for 11 yards, Sproles ripped off a 34-yard toss around left end, then Ingram run off right tackle for 7. But the drive stalled there, with a scrambling dumpoff to Graham stopped one yard short of the line to gain, and Sproles dumped for a loss on 3rd down. Hartley's field goal pulled the Saints within one point, but the Saints left two minutes on the clock for Eli Manning.
Manning picked the Saints apart in the two minute drill, aided by a 35-yard strike to a wide-open Victor Cruz, who got away from out-of-position Jabari Greer at the sideline. With :25 left, Manning tossed to Hixon at the back corner against a helpless Greer, pushing the halftime lead to 21-13.
On the first play of the second half for the Saints, Brees was promptly intercepted when an off-target pass bounced off of TE Jimmy Graham's hands and into the arms of CB Stevie Brown, who returned it to the Saint 20. Manning converted a 3rd and 8 with a 12-yard strike to Hakeem Nicks, who beat Robinson, and on the next play the rookie David Wilson scooted into the end zone from six yards out.
The Saints went three and out, and the Giants kept the pedal on the floor, scoring on a six play, 62-yard drive trigger by Nicks, who beat Robinson for 23 yards to move the sticks and then beating Robinson again on a simple fly route down the right sideline. Like we said before - Robinson was abused today.
Midway into the third quarter, the Saints would rally for two quick touchdowns. After Nicks' score put the Giants up 35-13, Brees went deep for WR Joseph Morgan into triple coverage. Brees' fluttering pass was so underthrown that Morgan had a chance to stop and comeback for the ball, making the catch and racing to the sidelines for a 62-yard gain. Two plays later, Sproles followed excellent blocking by WR Devery Henderson and LT Jermon Bushrod to waltz into the end zone from 13 yards out.
Eli Manning got the home team moving again with a 34-yard strike to Victor Cruz over the middle. But five plays into that drive, Manning's pass on the deep out for TE Martellus Bennett was stalked and intercepted beautifully by Saints S Isa Abdul-Quddus, who tiptoed the sidelines for a 12 yard return to the Saint 32.
Down but still sticking with their running game, Ingram ripped off a 19 yard run, and two plays later Brees finally engaged TE Jimmy Graham in a big way, finding him for a 27-yard catch and run down the right sideline. Three plays later, Brees tossed a designed flare to Darren Sproles, who tiptoed down the sideline and inside the front right pylon, outrunning S Will Hill to score from nine yards out. The Saints had countered the Giants' 14 quick third quarter points with 14 points of their own, but needed to keep the rally alive.
The Saints' momentum would quickly be snuffed out. Jerrel Jernigan got away on the kickoff return, forcing punter/kickoff specialist Thomas Morstead to make another difficult tackle at the sideline. Morstead, clearly not used to this kind of abuse, gets up slowly after each wrapup tackle. On that return, Elbert Mack was leveled with a devastating block.
Two plays into the fourth quarter, Eli drove to the Saint 10, where Giants WR Victor Cruz juked Johnny Patrick out of his shoes - on the field for Mack - at the line of scrimmage and jogged wide open into the end zone to catch the pass, extending the Giants lead to 42-27.
Driving again, the Saints moved from their own 19, picking up 44 yards on a deep strike to WR Joe Morgan, a rare well-thrown deep pass by Brees. A 15-yard horsecollar penalty after a tackle by CB Prince Amukamara on RB Pierre Thomas moved the Saints to the the Giant 21. A holding penalty moved the Saints backwards to the 31, and then Brees' pass down the seam to Graham in the end zone drew far too much attention. Brees' pass fluttered into traffic and was picked off by Stevie Brown again, who returned it all the way to to the Saint 22. Big credit to big man Jermon Bushrod, who was there after a 70-yard return to flatten Brown.
The Saints defense held the Giants to a field goal, but the 18-point lead was mountainous to the Saints' sputtering passing game. The Saints offense needed to keep moving the ball and respond fast to the Giants' 10-point scoring run.
Brees did not. A three-and-out by the Saints had them punting the ball away with 9:22 let on 4th and 7 from their own 24.
The Giants ate three minutes off the clock before punting with 6:19 let in the game. The Saints punted again after a three-and-out. On the next drive, rookie RB David Wilson put a nail in the coffin of the Saints' season by breaking free for a 52-yard touchdown on the the next snap. The hopeless 52-27 disadvantage should have put the backup QB Chase Daniel on the field for the Saints.
Brees stayed in the game and kept firing. He did eclipse the 4000 yard mark on the season, his 7th straight season over 4000, a new NFL record. The game ended with Brees firing incomplete to Sproles on 4th and 5 from the Giant 37 with 1:27 left on the clock. Sproles finished with 56 yards rushing and 28 yards receiving and a score. Mark Ingram led the Saints with 13 carries and 68 yards. WR Joe Morgan made two huge catches for 106 yards to lead the Saints. Pierre Thomas caught seven passes for 57 yards and had five carries for 19 yards.
The Giants scored more than 50 points for the first time since 1986. WR Victor Cruz, who hurt the Saints bad in previous Saint blowout wins, racked up eight catches for 121 yards and a score. Hakeem Nicks caught four passes for 67 yards and a score.
The Saints' injury report on the frigid, wet day was a MASH unit. Jonathan Vilma left the game early on. CB Jabari Greer was visible pain in the first quarter. WR Devery Henderson limped off. Darren Sproles was slow getting up but later returned. RT Zach Strief had to walk to the locker room midway through the second quarter, when he was temporarily replaced by William Robinson before returning. Both backup safeties Isa Abdul-Quddus and Rafael Bush saw significant playing time, with Jenkins suffering a right leg injury and not returning. MLB Curtis Lofton had to be helped off the field midway through the fourth.