The Giants enjoyed an historic day on many levels in their 52-27 dismantling of the Saints.
Big Blue’s victory was satisfying in that they managed to still keep the surging Redskins (7-6) at arm’s length for the race to the NFC East crown, they got their sluggish offense back on track and they set long-standing franchise marks.
Led by the passing of quarterback Eli Manning (22-of-35 for 259 yards and four touchdowns), the feet of rookie running back David Wilson and the hands of backup safety Stevie Brown, the Giants (8-5) stayed one game ahead of Washington, who won an overtime thriller earlier in the afternoon.
Manning threw two interceptions -- including a pick-six by Saints’ cornerback Elbert Mack returned 73 yards for the score -- but not even those speed bumps could dampen his afternoon.
“When the defense constantly gives us great field position and we don’t have to deliver 70- and 80-yard drives, and instead only have to go 30 or 40 yards or so, [it] makes a huge difference,” said Manning.
“The same goes for David [Wilson]. He gets us three or four long returns and that can only help. The more touches we get him it seems like the more we can get out of him.”
In a rare moment of overt confidence, the usually reserved Manning discussed the thought process when he goes up to the line of scrimmage and is reading the coverage.
“When you have receivers and a tight end who are capable of getting open in the seams or beat guys one-on-one, it’s great,” said Manning. “We feel if [opposing defenses] want to single us, it’s like, ‘Hey, go ahead.’ I have confidence that our guys will win on their routes.”
New York won just about every matchup against the Saints (5-8) -- from passing, to rushing, to the return game -- as they scored the most points in a game since the 1986 season.
“Even though we played well, I told them we’re still capable of playing better and got a lot of things we still need to do,” head coach Tom Coughlin said. “But we finished. And that’s what we’ve been saying: Finish. And we stayed away from the penalties. … It was nice to play them here in our stadium, too.”
Coughlin was right in pointing out that most of the Giants’ losses to the Saints, including the previous three, were at New Orleans’ cozy Superdome. But with a steady wind, cold temperatures and a raucous MetLife Stadium crowd, the Saints came unglued.
The Giants played a technically sound game, particularly on defense, in eliminating big plays from the Saints’high-powered offense. Quarterback Drew Brees was a turnover-machine for the second straight week with two costly interceptions and only one touchdown. His 338 passing yards on 23-of-38 passing was purely cosmetic, as a good chunk of that yardage came when the game was already in hand.
New Orleans’s deficiencies were also illuminated because the Giants won the field position battle, thanks to Wilson’s incredible 56.8 kickoff return yards average. They consistently started their own drives at or past midfield. Wilson also added a game-high 100 yards on 13 carries and two rushing touchdowns. He became the first player in league history to have 200 return yards and surpass the century mark rushing in the same game.
Coughlin said he’s looking forward to trying to get Wilson more involved in the game plan -- especially if starter Ahmad Bradshaw (knee) remains banged up. Coughlin said Sunday’s performance was a testament to Wilson’s resolve and professionalism, because the rookie could’ve gone into a shell following his early season struggles.
“He has great energy. But let’s be honest, as a rookie he’s struggled sometimes this year, but it’s never affected his attitude and how he prepares for each game,” said Coughlin. “For him to have that type of game ... his timing was right.”
Brown was the defensive hero, as he stymied Brees and Co. with eight tackles, a fumble recovery and both of Brees’s interceptions. Brown, who came into this season way down on the Giants’ depth chart, has continued his unlikely ascent as he set a single-season franchise mark in interception return yards. The former Michigan star now has 259 interception return yards. The previous mark was 251 yards, set in 1963 and 1949.
Big Blue notes
»The Giants set the single-game franchise record for kickoff return yards, as their six returns totaled 287 yards. The previous mark was 274 at Washington on Nov. 27, 1966.
»New York’s potent receiving corps finally had a nice collective showing for the first time perhaps all season. Cruz led all receivers in catches (eight) and yards (121). Nicks had a nice game considering all the ailments this season with four catches for 67 yards. Bennett has found a nice groove in recent weeks, following a good performance in Washington with 32 yards and a score for the second-consecutive week. Hixon also got in the scoring column with what Cruz said was about as “pretty a fade pass caught all season” on his 5-yard touchdown, with 20 seconds remaining in the first half. Hixon finished with 30 yards on three receptions.
»Jerrel Jernigan contributed to the record-setting return day with a 60-yarder of his own. It was his only return of the day.
»Running back Ahmad Bradshaw banged up his knee and cornerback Prince Amukamara left the game with a sore hamstring, but neither seemed concerned afterwards. Both will be further evaluated on Monday.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.