Eli Manning completed his first four passes and quickly marched the Giants inside the Saints 20, only to be intercepted in the end zone on his next throw.
The drive essentially was a microcosm of New York’s season, which started off strong but now is fizzling after a 49-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Monday night.
“We can’t get down and we can’t get frustrated,” Manning said. “We have to figure out how to bounce back. … These last five games are big and will determine our season.”
The Giants (6-5) started 6-2 and were on the verge of taking command of the NFC East, but a three-game skid has left them a game behind Dallas for the division lead. The latest defeat had players wondering if this was the beginning of their third late-season swoon in a row.
Defensive end Justin Tuck said it is “absolutely not possible” to avoid thinking about a potential collapse.
“I’m already thinking about it,” he said. “But it’s not going to stop how we prepare and how we try to go out and play.”
The Giants struggled on both sides of the ball and even on special teams, failing to execute a fake punt. New York’s defense was unable to sack Drew Brees and the Giants’ pass rush got even worse after Osi Umenyiora went out with an ankle sprain (team officials declined to say which ankle).
Brees passed for 363 yards and four touchdowns, in addition to his 8-yard scoring run, as the Saints (8-3) won their third straight and maintained a one-game lead over Atlanta in the NFC South.
They also padded their rushing stats with 205 yards on the ground, including touchdown runs of 12 yards by Pierre Thomas and 35 yards by rookie Mark Ingram.
“We didn’t stop them. How much further explanation do you want?” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “We prepared well, but when we got in the game we didn’t cover well. When we don’t get to the passer, we have trouble.”
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham had five catches for 84 yards, including touchdowns of 5 and 29 yards. Brees’ two other scoring strikes went to Lance Moore, who had five catches for 54 yards.
“Things were just clicking tonight and seemed like anything we tried, it seemed to work,” Graham said. “Tonight was definitely a fun night.”
Marques Colston had three catches for 78 yards, all on the Saints’ 34-second, 88-yard touchdown drive late in the second quarter that gave New Orleans a 21-3 halftime lead. Colston’s longest reception went for 50 yards when he caught a pass along the left sideline, slipped a tackle and raced up field.
The Giants took a beating on the scoreboard and on the field. After Umenyiora went down, receiver Hakeem Nicks was rocked on a vicious hit by Saints rookie safety Isa Abdul-Quddus.
Nicks stayed in the game despite bruised ribs.
New York already was missing two key players because of injuries: leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw and wide receiver Mario Manningham.
“It’s hard not to know when you’re getting your butt whipped, but I didn’t see any moping I was concerned about,” Tuck said. “We played hard, (but) it’s hard to smile when you’re losing like that.”
Manning passed for 406 yards and completed 21 straight passes — mostly after the outcome was decided.
New York did not get into the end zone until Brandon Jacobs steamrolled safety Roman Harper on an 8-yard scoring run that made it 21-10 in the third quarter, but the Saints went right back down the field and scored on Brees’ scramble.
After Giants running back Da’Rell Scott fumbled on his own 29, Brees connected with Graham, who rumbled down the left sideline and dove for the pylon for his second TD of the game, and his team-leading eighth receiving score of the season.
The only scoring the Giants managed in the first half was Lawrence Tynes’ 42-yard field goal. Tynes also attempted a 61-yarder, which fell short, at the end of the half.
The Giants, who have been struggling to run the ball all season, gained only 73 yards on the ground, dropping their already anemic rushing average to an NFL-worst 82.3 yards per game.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.