By the time rookie back Mark Ingram went 35 yards for a touchdown with 1:02 left in the game, the Saints had long since shellacked the Giants on “Monday Night Football.” Playing with that blend of grace and muscle that stamps the elite teams in the NFL, the Saints cruised to a 49-24 victory that summoned memories of their 2009 championship season in which they similarly crushed New York.
Quarterback Drew Brees delivered another sterling performance, throwing for 363 yards and four touchdowns, while also unveiling some nifty open field moves to run for a fifth score. The Saints coupled that with a powerful 205 net rushing yards. The combination – plus a handful of yards picked up on a fake field goal – led to 577 yards of offense, the second most the Giants have ever surrendered and the Saints have ever earned.
Saints Coach Sean Payton noted that, for the third straight week, Brees received superb protection from his offensive line and the productive ground attack – “all good allies for a quarterback,” he said. But even while stressing New Orleans must look at their play through critical goggles, Payton acknowledged the obvious.
“He made some fantastic throws tonight,” he said of Brees.
The Saints’ defense, meanwhile, delivered several memorable hits – some of which drew penalties – and gave up just 73 yards on the ground. Although Giants quarterback Eli Manning had a fine game statistically, finishing with 406 yards and going most of the second half without throwing an incompletion, he did most of his damage between the 20-yard lines and both of his touchdown throws came in the fourth quarter long after the game had been decided.
With the win, New Orleans (8-3) maintains its lead in the NFC South while the Giants (6-5) have lost three in a row and are now confronting another season in which they crumple in the second half of the season and miss the playoffs.
The first half gave every indication of being an explosive one for both teams, but wound up being so in fact only for the Saints, a thread that would run throughout the game. In the first quarter alone, the teams combined for four plays of more than 20 yards and another three of more than 15 yards, and yet the quarter finished scoreless.
That changed quickly in the second quarter. On the second play of it, Brees flicked a 4-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Lance Moore to put New Orleans ahead 7-0. The Giants responded with a nine-play drive that sputtered after center David Baas was flagged for the first of what would be two false starts in the half, and New York settled for a 42-yard field goal.
Brees then took over the game. With running backs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles ripping off big gains on the ground, Brees’ play action work was in high gear and he repeatedly caught the Giants secondary flat-footed. The Saints’ second touchdown drive was capped with a 5-yard scoring pass to tight end Jimmy Graham.
Wide receivers Devery Henderson and Marques Colston also made key contributions to the Saints’ second quarter explosion.
The Giants still managed to move the ball, with Manning rifling many fine throws. But dropped passes and penalties in Saints territory plagued New York. It was a combination of those that forced New York to punt the ball with 1:09 remaining in the half, a fine effort by former Saints punter Steve Weatherford that put the ball on the Saints’ 9-yard line.
As it happened, neither the field position nor the clock could constrain the Saints this night. Brees trotted out and promptly hit Colston down the right sideline for a 50-yard gain that suddenly threw the game’s final outcome – and perhaps the Giants’ 2011 season – into sharp relief. Using their three timeouts, Brees and Colston connected twice more to move the ball to the New York 10, from where Brees passed to Moore who was streaking across the field. Moore dived in for the score and the Giants were clearly stunned, 21-3.
The Giants summoned some guts, however, and drove 67 yards for a touchdown, a drive aided and emotionally charged with a savage hit Saints safety Isa Adbul-Quddus delivered on Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks near midfield. Although it appeared clean on replays Abdul-Quddus drew a personal foul. The galvanized Giants eventually converted when running back Brandon Jacobs bulldozed Roman Harper and rumbled into the end zone on an 8-yard touchdown run.
With the score now 21-10, and the Giants clearly rejuvenated, Brees re-entered the game and promptly drove a stake through New York’s heart. Taking over on the New Orleans 27-yard line, Brees engineered a nine-play scoring drive that settled the thing. The drive also featured two plays that would serve as trademarks for Brees’ effort. The first of them, on a first-and-15 from the New Orleans 46-yard line, involved Brees eluding the grasp of Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, rolling to his right and dodging another defender and then, while airborne but with his back foot still behind the line of scrimmage, flipping the ball to Thomas who turned it into a 15-yard gain.