NEW ORLEANS- The Giants and New Orleans Saints combined for 101 points, 1,030 total yards, 840 passing yards, 64 first downs, and an NFL-record 13 touchdown passes on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. But the play that most influenced the outcome was a 24-yard punt return.
With 20 seconds remaining, after failing to convert on third-and-five, the Giants punted, hoping to take the 49-49 tie into overtime. Rookie Marcus Murphy returned Brad Wing's punt to the Giants' 47, where he fumbled. The ball was picked up by Willie Snead, who was tackled by Wing. After an unexplained delay, Wing was penalized 15 yards for grabbing Snead's facemask. That advanced the ball to the 32, with five seconds left. Kai Forbath immediately kicked a 50-yard field goal as time expired to give the Saints a 52-49 victory in one of the most incredible games in Giants history.
The result left both teams with 4-4 records, and the Giants bemoaning a third defeat this season in which they led in the fourth quarter.>> WATCH GIANTS VS. SAINTS HIGHLIGHTS
"We punt the ball, they should have had the ball with five seconds to go," coach Tom Coughlin said. "Where the coverage is, I don't know. I'd have to look. We're obviously going to shore up our protection there. … We thought the knee was down, at least that was what the word was coming down upstairs. We thought knee was down prior to the facemask penalty, but they had plenty to look at it. We kicked it in such a way that we should have had better coverage."
"We just can't let them get into that position to begin with," Wing said. "I don't know why they came back and enforced it (the facemask penalty)."
The punt return, penalty and field goal provided an unlikely finish to an electrifying offensive outtburst. Eli Manning threw for 350 yards and a career-high six touchdowns – and was only the second-most productive quarterback in the game. New Orleans' Drew Brees topped him with 511 yards, the highest total ever against the Giants, and seven touchdowns, which tied the highest total in NFL history.
"It was a wild one," Manning said. "I don't know if I played in one quite like that, with that many touchdowns, back and forth, Drew playing great. Lot of touchdowns, lot of offense, and just a wild one. Wish we could have come out on top.">> WATCH GIANTS POSTGAME REACTIONS
So did Coughlin, who was not happy his defense surrendered 614 yards, 36 first downs, and those seven touchdowns.
"I'm not going to give you a lot of adjectives to describe the way I feel about not stopping them," Coughlin said. "You're just going to have to live with the fact that we didn't do a good enough job, we didn't stop them enough, we got the lead in the game, we
should have won the game, we didn't win the game.
"We couldn't stop them, we didn't stop them. Find the words. Frustrating. You want to explode, but that's not going to help."
The explosiveness was provided by the quarterbacks and their offenses.
Brees completed 40 of 50 passes, including touchdowns to Snead (two), Brandin Cooks (two), Ben Watson, Marques Colston and C.J. Spiller.
Manning countered by hitting 30 of 41 throws for 350 yards. He threw three touchdown passes to Odell Beckham Jr., two to Dwayne Harris, and one to Shane Vereen.
"It was great to come back here and come back home and play in the Dome," said Beckham, who played high school football in New Orleans. "It was only the second time I've had the opportunity to play here, and both losses were equally as bad. It's just not fun losing, and this one here was one we definitely wanted to win."
The Giants trailed in the second quarter, 28-14, then Manning's two-yard touchdown pass to Vereen two seconds before halftime, and a 50-yarder to Beckham early in the third quarter, tied the score at 28-28.
New Orleans again jumped ahead by two touchdowns, at 42-28, but the Giants staged another rally. Manning's touchdown passes of nine and 20 yards to Harris tied the score, and the Giants jumped ahead, 49-42, when cornerback Trumaine McBride plucked Snead's fumble out of the air and returned it 63 yards for a 49-42 lead with 7:11 remaining in the game.
"The defensive score really made me feel like we were going to win," Coughlin said. "I thought with the defensive score we'd win the game."
Brees had other ideas, leading the Saints on a 14-play, 80-yard drive (the Saints' sixth drive that covered at least that much yardage) that included a fourth-down conversion and ended with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Spiller with 36 seconds left.
The Giants took over at their 20-yard line, needing one first down to send the game to overtime. But Manning's pass to Harris on third-and-five fell incomplete, setting up the fateful punt.
"Eli threw it up and I had a chance to catch it, but it was a little bit out of my reach," Harris said. "Looking back, I probably should've caught it. That's the kind of play I have to make. In the end, things just did not go our way."
For the Giants, that's difficult to accept.
"It was great to be out there and be involved in a game like this," wide receiver Rueben Randle said. "You saw two great offenses out there scoring a lot of points. It was great for the fans, but tough for us as a team to not win."
"We did pretty much everything we could do on one side of the ball," Coughlin said. "We also got a defensive touchdown and it should have been enough. It wasn't enough."
Gameday photos from Sunday's matchup vs. New Orleans Saints