by Jon Wagner
It happened so fast and so frequently, that the New Orleans Saints’ offense gave new meaning to the term “bayou” – as in blew “by you,” or the whiplashed feeling that members of the New York Giants’ defense had after watching a myriad of Saints weapons dash past them on the way to the end zone at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Monday night.
While the Giants (6-5) still dream of winning the NFC East, they suffered a New Orleans nightmare before a national television audience on Monday Night Football, as the Saints (8-3) moved to a perfect 6-0 at home while thrashing the Giants, 49-24, to win their third straight game while sending New York to its third consecutive defeat.
Saints’ future hall of fame quarterback Drew Brees (24-38, 363 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT, 0 sacks) did what he does best in picking apart an often confounded Giants’ defense while further etching his name deeper into the NFL history books.
New Orleans, well rested following its bye week, easily took advantage of a mystified New York defense which often couldn’t even get the right personnel on the field in time to stop the Saints’ no huddle attack.
And, even when the Giants had the right players in place, they still couldn’t stop the run or the pass, while allowing 577 yards – the second most in the club’s 87-year history.
Just how bad was the injury-depleted Giants’ defense (which lacked primary signal caller, seven-year linebacker Michael Boley for a second straight game)?
Well, New York quarterback, Eli Manning (33-47, 406 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack) recorded just his second career 400-yard game and at one point, completed 21 straight passes – one shy of the NFL single-game record – and it hardly mattered at all.
At least Manning’s personal performance was a lot better than his 14-for-31, 178-yard day during his previous trip to the Superdome for his first professional game in his native New Orleans, just four miles from where his high school jersey number is honored.
But, the result was painfully similar to the Saints’ 48-27 victory over Manning’s Giants in the same building in 2009.
Brees meanwhile, who remains on pace to break Dan Marino’s single season passing record of 5,084 yards (in 1984) after coming within just 15 yards of that record three years ago, directed six drives of at least 70 yards, five for touchdowns, with four of those (each in under five minutes) going for at least 80 yards.
While Brees still has work to do to catch Marino for the single season mark, he did match Marino in one other category and reached several other milestones while once again winning over the home crowd and turning The Big Easy into The Big Brees-y for a night:
- Brees became the first player in NFL history to throw for 30,000 yards in a seven-season span.
- Bress’ 3,689 passing yards are the most in NFL history through a team’s first 11 games in a season.
- Brees’ 265 passing yards in first half (while going 17-for-25) were the most in a half during the current six-year era in New Orleans for Brees and Saints’ head coach Sean Peyton.
- Brees threw a touchdown pass for the 38th straight game, moving him into second place all-time behind only Johnny Unitas (47 games).
- With 27 touchdown passes on the season, Brees has thrown at least 25 touchdowns in six consecutive seasons, moving him into second place behind only Manning’s brother Peyton (13 straight seasons).
- Brees’ 27th 350-yd game ties Marino for the all-time NFL record.
- Brees’ sixth 350-yard game this season ties Tom Brady (who has four this year) for most in a season.
All of that in a game which had a scoreless first quarter was scoreless – imagine how bad it might have been for New York if New Orleans had found the end zone in the opening quarter, as it usually does.
It looked like that might happen on the game’s first drive, when the Saints finally won a coin toss for the first time this season and took the opening kick 70 yards in 11 plays against the Giants’ porous defense.
New Orleans finished the trip by faking a 36-yard field goal attempt on a 4th-and-11 pass from in the right flat from Brees to tight end Jimmy Graham (5 catches, 84 yards, 2 TD), but defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul did a good job of staying with Graham to drag him down a yard short of a first down at the Giants’ 10-yard line.
From there, Manning completed his first four passes (for 63 yards), including consecutive gains of 12 and 19 yards to wide receiver Victor Cruz (9 catches, 157 yards, 2 TD), and a 26-yard strike over the middle to the tall but rarely targeted wide receiver Ramses Barden (3 catches, 38 yards), to quickly move New York to the New Orleans 18-yard line.
But, looking for tight end Jake Ballard (3 catches, 47 yards) in the end zone on the next play, Manning was intercepted by linebacker Will Herring, who made a great play to rip the ball from Ballard’s grip as the two fell to the ground. It was Herring’s second career interception and first as a Saint after coming to New Orleans this season following four years with Seattle.
New Orleans turned the pick into the game’s first points, going 80 yards on ten plays in 4:35 to take a 7-0 lead on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Brees to wide receiver Lance Moore (5 catches, 54 yards, 2 TD) on the first play of the second quarter.
On their next drive, the Giants answered with their first score, but settled for a 42-yard field goal by kicker Lawrence Tynes, to cut the Saints’ lead to 7-3, with 9½ minutes left in the first half, after travelling 46 yards on nine plays, as Manning completed four of six passes for 35 yards.
The teams then traded five-play possessions that ended in punts before the Saints embarked on their second 80-yard touchdown drive of the half. This time, New Orleans needed just three minutes to go seven plays and extend its lead to 14-3 on a 5-yard touchdown throw from Brees to Graham with 2:21 to go in the half.
New York then moved 38 yards on nine plays, but Giants’ receivers dropped three very catchable balls on the drive, leading to a punt with 1:17 left in the half.
That was more than enough time for Brees and the Saints, who found the end zone again, in just 34 seconds.
Wide receiver Marques Colston (3 catches, 78 yards) did a great job to shake a tackle and keep his feet in bounds while turning what should have been a short gain just past the first down marker into a 50-yard play (Colston’s longest reception of the season) on first down to the New York 38-yard line.
Colston’s run of 39 yards after the catch accounted for a good chunk of the Saints’ 106 yards after catches in first half.
Five plays later, Brees threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Moore to push New Orleans’ lead to 21-3 with 35 seconds left in the half.
Manning completed three straight passes to move the Giants to the Saints’ 43-yard line and set Tynes up for a 61-yard longshot of a field goal attempt that actually had a decent chance of being good before falling a little short as the first half expired.
New York temporarily got back in the game while opening the second half, with the help of a questionable personal foul call against rookie safety Isa Abdul-Quddus for a vicious hit to break up a pass intended for wide receiver Hakeem Nicks ( 7 catches, 87 yards).
Three plays after a Manning completion of 24 yards to Ballard to the Saints’ 19-yard line, running back Brandon Jacobs (13 carries, 46 yards, 1 TD), a Louisiana native like Manning, powered his way into the end zone for his 57th career touchdown (rushing or receiving) as a Giants, moving him into second place all-time on the Giants’ list, past Alex Webster.
More importantly, New York had cut New Orleans’ lead to 21-10 with 10:43 left in the third quarter.
There was no stopping Saints’ offense however, as Brees took New Orleans 73 yards on nine plays in 4:49, finishing the drive with an 8-yard scoring run, on which he avoided a tackle by safety Deon Grant on his way to diving into the end zone for a 28-10 Saints’ lead with 5:48 left in the quarter.
Just three plays later, the Giants gave the ball right back to the Saints, as Manning faked a high snap over his head on a direct snap to seldom-used, rookie running back Da’Rel Scott who fumbled on a 3rd-and-1 run.
Replays appeared to show Scott being down before the ball was loose, but a Giants’ challenge on a borderline call wasn’t reversed, and New Orleans cashed in just two plays later, when Brees threw to Graham who scored on a 29-yard reception up the left side, to increase the Saints’ advantage to 35-10, with 4:13 left in the period.
Punter Steve Weatherford tried a fourth-down run on a fake that never had a chance, but the Giants’ defense finally held again, and forced a Saints’ punt.
The Saints’ secondary was then sold on the run while being torched by Cruz, who was left wide open up the middle on a 72-yard touchdown catch that pulled New York to within 35-17 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
But, keeping the ball on the ground for seven plays, the Saints went 80 yards on nine plays in 4:09, to go up 42-17 on a 12-yard touchdown run by running back Pierre Thomas (8 carries, 63 yards, 1 TD) with 10:41 remaining.
Capping a 12-play, 80-yard drive, Manning threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Cruz, to trim the Saints’ lead to a more respectable 42-24 with 5:12 left, but the Saints embarrassed the Giants’ defense with one final score, as rookie first-round pick, running back Mark Ingram Jr. (the son of Giants’ Super Bowl XXV hero, wide receiver Mark Ingram Sr.) scored on a 35-yard run up the left side, to close the scoring.
As unstoppable as Brees and the Saints’ passing game were, Ingram (13 carries, 80 yards, 1 TD) led a New Orleans rushing attack that averaged 6.8 yards per carry while outgaining New York on the ground, 205-73.
The loss guarantees that the Giants will finish the second half of the season with a worse record than in the first half for an eighth straight season under head coach Tom Coughlin (who is in his eighth year in New York after spending as many years in Jacksonville, where he likewise had mixed results with four winning seasons and four losing seasons).
The Giants, who were 6-2 with a two-game lead in the NFC East at the regular season’s midpoint, now trail division rival Dallas (7-4) by a game. The teams meet twice in the final four weeks of the regular season, including the season finale on New York’s home field.
Due to the Giants’ current slide, sweeping Dallas might be New York’s best chance of reaching the playoffs and perhaps saving Coughlin’s job.
Before that however, the schedule only gets even tougher next week, as the league’s only undefeated team, the Green Bay Packers (11-0), will visit the Giants on Sunday at 4:15 pm ET.
The teams last met when Green Bay was 8-6 last season, with each club needing a win to sure up its wild-card playoff positioning. The Packers blew out the Giants (who missed the playoffs), 45-17, in Green Bay, to begin what is now a 17-game winning streak that includes four postseason wins as a six seed and a Super Bowl title last year.
“We all know in the back of our heads what people will say because of three straight losses,” said defensive end Justin Tuck, acknowledging talk of another second-half swoon apparently in progress.
“But, we’re going to keep fighting and hopefully we’ll get this thing right.”