NEW ORLEANS - There were a few times Sunday when Giants players looked at each other and actually smiled.
They weren't the same happy grins that graced the sideline the previous few weeks as they steamrolled through a soft spot in their schedule. No, these were ironic, "What can you do?" smirks.
"It got to the point where it was almost comical," Justin Tuck said. "We couldn't do nothing to stop them."
The Giants had not allowed an opponent to take more than four offensive snaps on an opening drive this season. There were four three-and-outs and one first down.
How'd the Saints (5-0) open up the game? With a 15-play, 70-yard drive for a touchdown that ate up nearly half of the first quarter and set the tone for a 48-27 drubbing of what many considered the NFC's best team.
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Drew Brees completed 23 of 30 passes, including 15 straight in the first half, for 369 yards and four touchdowns, setting the rhythm like a pounding bass drummer in a jazz band. Boom, boom, boom. Completion, completion, completion.
The last time the Giants gave up this many points was in a 50-21 home loss to the Redskins in 1999. It was almost as bad as their last visit to the Superdome, a 45-7 rout in 2003.
Still, there was a moment late in the first half when it seemed as if the Giants (5-1) were about to interrupt the onslaught. The Saints had driven to the 1 and had third-and-goal. First, Barry Cofield caught a leaping Mike Bell in the air as he tried to run it in. Then, with the Saints going for the kill on fourth down, Osi Umenyiora and Danny Clark put up a wall on the right side of the defense to keep Pierre Thomas out of the end zone.
The Giants trailed 27-17 with just under a minute remaining in the half, and a penalty on the Saints' bench gave them another 15 yards of breathing room. "We've done it in less time than that," Tom Coughlin said of the offensive situation. "We'd just made one play, we were in pretty good shape as far as being aggressive again, and the one thing that can't happen did happen."
That one thing was a blitz by safety Roman Harper, who came untouched into the back of Eli Manning, forcing a fumble that the Saints recovered at the 7. Two plays later, the Saints scored on a 7-yard run by Reggie Bush around left end, making the goal-line stand more of a pause than a stop.
That was one of three momentum swings that went the Saints' way. Another was Jabari Greer's interception in the third quarter after the Saints were forced to punt for the first time. After the pick, Manning and Ahmad Bradshaw came off the field having a "conversation" about the running back's pass protection.
Then there was a phantom holding call against Shaun O'Hara on what would have been a remarkable 10-yard TD pass to Brandon Jacobs early in the fourth. Manning was flushed to his right and rolled back to his left before lofting a pass into the end zone for the jumping Jacobs. That would have made it 41-24 with about 12 minutes left. Instead, the Giants had to kick a field goal that made it 41-20.
The Giants entered the game with the NFL's top-ranked pass defense. Brees picked it apart, using play-action to not only keep the pass rush away from him but to suck the secondary up to the line before deconstructing it down the field. The Giants entered the game having allowed six passes of at least 20 yards this year. The Saints had seven, plus 19- and 18-yarders. "They did a good job of selling the runs and it was holding the safeties, so we really couldn't help anybody out," C.C. Brown said.
Even when the Giants were in position, they weren't able to make plays. Jeremy Shockey caught his 1-yard TD pass over the outstretched arms of Danny Clark. Robert Meachem caught a 36-yarder by yanking the ball away from Brown. And Marques Colston caught a 20-yarder over the middle with Terrell Thomas tangled up below him like the remains of a blown-out tire.
Still, the Giants didn't seem overly depressed. There was, after all, time to sneak in a few of those knowing, "it happens" smiles. It was almost as if the Giants think they'll face the Saints again . . . maybe in January.
"Of course it's embarrassing. We're much better than that," Umenyiora said. "The Saints are a good team. But they're not that good to beat us by however many points they beat us by."