Giants Zone Out In The Big Brees-y

New Orleans is known as “The Big Easy,” but the football game played at The Superdome on Sunday was anything but trouble-free for the New York Giants, who were unable to stop one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks and the league’s most prolific offense, which scored touchdowns on its first four possessions and never looked back.

After three straight effortless weeks shutting down some of the league’s worst offenses (winning consecutive games against 0-6 Tampa Bay, 1-5 Kansas City, and 2-4 Oakland), the Giants’ two-deep zone defense was picked apart by New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees in a demoralizing 48-27 loss, ending the New York’s five game winning streak to begin the 2009 season.

The Saints, who are 5-0 for the first time since 1993, set the tone early with a game-opening 15-play, 70-yard drive, which consumed 7:41 off the clock. The drive ended with a 4th-and-1, over-the-top dive for a touchdown by running back Mike Bell, giving New Orleans a 7-0 lead before Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning, who was making his homecoming, could touch the ball for the first time. The 28-year-old Manning, who was born and raised for the first 18 years of his life in New Orleans, played for the first time in the building where is father Archie Manning quarterbacked the Saints from 1971-1982.

On that first drive, Brees was just getting started, completing 5 of 7 passes for 43 yards against the Giants’ very soft zone with its injury-depleted secondary, while also running for six yards and a first down on 3rd-and-3 from the Saints’ 37 on the game’s first series.

The Bell touchdown marked the fifth time in as many games that New Orleans scored on its first possession this season. The score also gave the Saints 31 points (most in the NFL) on opening drives this year, which surpassed the Giants’ 27 points on such drives. On the game’s next possession, New York’s streak of scoring on its first possession in its first five games came to an end when it managed just one first down before punting.

The next time Brees touched the ball, he threw six straight passes, completing all of them, leading the Saints 80 yards in just 2:48, finding ex-Giant tight end Jeremy Shockey on a one-yard touchdown pass, putting New Orleans up, 14-0, with 2:11 left in the first quarter.

In less than 12 minutes, the Giants had already just about given up their average of 14.2 points per game (second only to Denver) coming into the contest.

At that point, Brees, who finished the game going 23-30 for 369 yards (his 32nd career 300-yard game), with four touchdowns and no turnovers, had already completed 11 of his first 13 passes for 123 yards against a Giants’ defense which entered the game ranked first in the league both overall (allowing 210.6 total yards per game) and against the pass (giving up just 104.8 passing yards per game).

The Saints led by double digits the rest of the way, in what was supposed to be a Bayou showdown between arguably the top two teams in the NFL entering Week 6, although the Giants briefly showed signs in the first half of getting back in the game.

After the Saints’ second touchdown, Domenic Hixon returned the ensuing kickoff 45 yards to midfield, but New York could only move 19 yards to the New Orleans 31 yard-line, for a Lawrence Tynes 49-yard field goal, to pull to within 14-3 with three seconds left in the first quarter.

The second quarter featured a scoring explosion. The Giants scored a pair of touchdowns, but allowed another three, and trailed 34-17 by halftime.

After Tynes’ field goal, it took the Saints just four plays and 2:20 to go 57 yards and take a 20-3 lead (the PAT was missed) on a 36-yard toss from Brees to wide receiver Robert Meacham.

The Giants responded though, taking the next possession 9 plays and 73 yards in 4:59, closing to within 20-10 on running back Ahmad Bradshaw’s 10-yard touchdown run with 7:41 left in the first half. The game nearly got away earlier on that drive when Saints’ safety Darren Sharper returned the ball for an apparent touchdown, but it was called back for a personal foul call on New Orleans linebackers Jonathan Vilma’s late hit on Manning.

The Saints struck right back on the next possession, however, going 5 plays and 61 yards in only 2:37, taking a 27-10 lead on a Brees 12-yard touchdown throw to Lance Moore. That scoring drive was aided by a very questionable 35-yard pass interference penalty on Giants’ cornerback Corey Webster who got his feet tangled with Saints’ receiver, former Hofstra star Marques Colston (games highs of 8 receptions and 166 yards), setting New Orleans up with a first down at the New York 12 yard-line.

Hixon again responded, returning the kickoff that followed, 68 yards to the Saints’ 37 yard-line. The Giants used the short field to score in just four plays, as Manning, who was held to just 14 of 31 for 178 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT on the day, threw his only touchdown pass of the game, a 15-yard strike to wide receiver Mario Manningham, who ripped the ball away from Sharper. The Giants were in the game, down 27-17, with 3:19 remaining in the half.

On the next possession, Brees and Colston again had their way with the Giants’ pass defense, connecting on consecutive hookups of 40 yards and then another 20 yards, to the New York 8 yard-line.

The Giants defense finally had what looked to be a momentum-changing moment though, stopping the Saints on a goal-line stand, as New Orleans running back Pierre Thomas (game-high 72 yards on 15 carries) was stopped on 4th-and-1, on a surge led by Giants’ defensive end Osi Umenyiora.

After Manning completed an 18-yard pass to Manningham, he was sacked and fumbled. The Saints recovered at the Giants 8-yard line. Two plays later, running back Reggie Bush scored on an easy 7-yard touchdown run with just 9 seconds left in the half, to lead 34-17.

The Giants entered the locker room at halftime stunned, having allowed three more points in a single half than they had in any of their previous five games this season (they gave up 31 in a win at Dallas) and eight more points than they gave up in their previous three games, combined.

Brees completed the first half with a 157.7 passer rating, going a near-perfect 17 of 20 for 247 yards, 3 TD, and 0 INT. A huge part of the Giants’ inability to cover receivers downfield was their severe lack of pressure up front on the Saints’ quarterback. Brees wasn’t sacked and was hit just twice in the opening half, while New Orleans rolled up 315 yards of offense and scored touchdowns on five of 6 first-half possessions.

“I don’t know that we ever hit him,” Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said of Brees. “At this level, if you’re going to stop the pass, you’ve got to get pressure. You’ve got to force the quarterback not to throw it on his tempo.”

Which is exactly what Brees thought was the key to his success, saying “We wanted to really dictate the tempo of the game the whole way through. “Seven different guys scored touchdowns. That’s big. That’s the type of rhythm that, when you get in, you feel like you can call anything and it’s going to work.” It was the first time that seven different Saints scored in a game since November 2, 1969, at St. Louis.

After each team traded punts to start the third quarter, Manning was intercepted at the New Orleans 40 yard-line, prompting a frustrated Manning to slap Bradshaw on the shoulder pad and berate him for Bradshaw’s breakdown in pass blocking.

Brees and the Saints took advantage of the turnover, going 9 plays and 71 yards in 5:11, for Brees’ final touchdown of the day, a 12-yard touchdown pass to Colston with 4:10 left in the third quarter, giving New Orleans a 41-17 lead, effectively ending the Giants’ hopes.

The Giants had an early fourth-quarter touchdown pass after a great scrambling job by Manning nullified by a mysterious holding call. New York then settled for a 38-yard Tynes field goal, to trail 41-20.

New Orleans running back Heath Evans added a 2-yard touchdown run with 7:04 left and backup quarterback David Carr, in for Manning with the game out of reach, closed the scoring with a 37-yard throw to rookie wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (5 catches for 114 yards), who caught a touchdown pass for the third straight game.

New York will need to return to form defensively when it returns home next week to face another good quarterback, Arizona’s Kurt Warner, when the Giants host the Cardinals (3-2) at 8:20pm EST, on Sunday night, at Giants Stadium.

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