On Saturday night, David Wilson fell asleep watching an ESPN documentary about former dual-sport star Bo Jackson, who had his share of incredible athletic feats.
"Maybe I was dreaming a little bit about that," Wilson said.
But it's doubtful that even in his most outrageous fantasies he could have conjured up what took place in MetLife Stadium late Sunday afternoon. Wilson, whose rookie season had been more about potential than performance, had one of the best individual performances in recent Giants history in a 52-27 rout of the New Orleans Saints.
Wilson returned four kickoffs for 227 yards, including a 97-yard touchdown, and rushed for 100 yards and two scores, the second a 52-yarder. He became the first player in NFL history with at least 200 kickoff return yards and 100 rushing yards in the same game. Wilson celebrated each score with a backward flip.
"To come out and have a breakout game like this, it's an excellent feeling – you want to have a good game," Wilson said. "Every game you want to have a good game. I think I went out there and my teammates went out there and we played great. We put up 50 points, which hasn't been done in a long time."
The Giants hadn't done that since Dec. 20, 1986, when they routed Green Bay, 55-24, in their regular-season finale. More importantly, the victory enabled the Giants to improve to 8-5 and stay one game ahead of Dallas and Washington in the NFC East race. The Cowboys and Redskins both won on the final play of their games. Next week, the Giants visit 11-2 Atlanta.
"We've played pretty well, together-type football," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "(In losses to) Washington, Cincinnati, we didn't and you see the results. So I think for us we've just got to just take a step back and look at how we can play when we're together and we're all in and that should be encouraging for us going on to these next three."
It will be easier to do that if they keep getting contributions from Wilson like he gave them on Sunday. The Giants had other big-game players, notably Eli Manning (four touchdown passes) and safety Stevie Brown (two interceptions, which he returned for 91 yards). But it was Wilson's star which shined brightest.
His 327 all-purpose yards established a team record. The former mark of 303 was set by Domenik Hixon at New Orleans on Oct. 18, 2009. Hixon's breakdown was 230 yards on kickoff returns, 51 on punt returns and 22 on receptions. Wilson averaged 56.8 yards per return, the highest total ever by a Giant with at least three returns in a game. The previous record of 51.8 yards was set by Joe Scott on four returns vs. the Rams on Nov. 14, 1948.
The Giants and their fans have been waiting for a game like this from Wilson, who was the team's first-round draft this year. But he fumbled early in the season opener vs. Dallas and has worked all season long to create a niche in the offense for himself.
"I didn't have the greatest start for a rookie, and rookies have little room for error," Wilson said. "At that point I was put in a position where I had to gain the coaches' trust again. I stuck with it and kept working and working at meetings and working on the field and trying to regain the trust. I knew eventually my opportunity would come again. I did those things so I would be prepared when the opportunity did approach."
Against the Saints, he took full advantage of his chance. After Elbert Mack's interception return gave the Saints a 7-0 lead, Wilson immediately tied the score with his long kickoff return. The Giants never trailed again. He also had returns of 58 and 52 yards, though the Giants were unable to capitalize on them. And with Ahmad Bradshaw missing part of the game with a sore knee, Wilson needed only 13 carries to run for 100 yards. His first rushing touchdown put the Giants ahead, 28-13, and his second pushed him over the 50-point mark.
"He did a great job," said Tom Coughlin, who became the 17th head coach in NFL history with 150 regular-season victories. "Our kickoff return team (including a 60-yard return by Jerrel Jernigan) gave us unbelievable field position."
"(David) had a big night," Manning said. "His special teams and his kickoff returns were outstanding. Obviously, giving us a touchdown after I threw an interception for a touchdown was very nice. I appreciated that. Then, he had a couple of other returns that gave us great field position and then the runs. He ran hard. I said to him, 'Your best play was picking up that three-safety blitz on a play-action.' He's learning, running hard and he had a couple of big runs at the end for first downs. He obviously showed speed on the toss for that last touchdown."
Manning threw touchdown passes to Martellus Bennett, Domenik Hixon, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Lawrence Tynes added a 39-yard field goal.
The Saints, who fell to 5-8, got Mack's score, two Darren Sproles touchdowns – one on a 13-yard run, the other on a nine-yard reception – and a pair of Garrett Hartley field goals.
Wilson scored the Giants' final touchdown when he took a pitch from Manning and ran around left end for 52 yards with 5:10 remaining.
"He's probably the best athlete on this team," Tuck said. "You see it when he scores a touchdown. He does cartwheels and backflips and I've been telling him to stop doing that, but he does it with ease. So whenever you put a threat like that back there, it's only a matter of time. You saw flashes of it early in the year and he kind of got some lulls. With tonight, I think he was the main reason we were able to win this game like we did. A huge shot in the arm, not only to our offense but our defense because he energized the crowd, he energized us on the sideline and now it's on tape we're going to expect that from him every game."
Brown's second interception – and 70-yard return – led to Tynes' three-pointer, which increased the Giants' lead to 45-27 with 10:19 remaining.
Manning's 10-yard touchdown pass to Cruz just 40 seconds into the fourth quarter increased the Giants' lead to 42-27. The drive was set up by Jernigan's 60-yard kickoff return to the Saints' 25-yard line. Four consecutive Bradshaw runs moved the ball to the 10. On second-and-seven, Manning found Cruz all alone in the end zone for the touchdown.
The Giants scored two touchdowns in the first six minutes of the third quarter to increase their lead to 35-13.
On the first play of the second half, Drew Brees' pass down the middle for tight end Jimmy Graham was intercepted by Brown, who returned the ball 21 yards to the Saints' 20. Graham caught only five passes for 56 yards after scoring two touchdowns in a New Orleans victory over the Giants last season.
"We were just cautious of where he was at on the field," Brown said. "We knew he was one of Brees' favorite targets. So, we wanted to take him away."
Manning and Nicks kept the drive alive by hooking up for a 12-yard pass on third-and-eight. On the next play, Wilson took a handoff, followed the left side of the line and fought his way into the end zone from six yards out for his second touchdown of the game.
The defense forced the Saints to go three-and-out and the Giants took possession at their own 38. On the second play of the drive, Manning threw to the right side for Nicks, who was pushed out bounds after a 23-yard gain. Three plays later, on third-and-two, Manning found Cruz for a three-yard gain to the 25. On the next snap, Nicks ran past cornerback Patrick Robinson on the right side, caught Manning's pass inside the five and stepped into the end zone for his third touchdown of the season, increasing the Giants' lead to 22 points.
But the Giants gave some of it back in less than a minute. New Orleans started its next series at the 25 and on the first play Brees threw a pass down the middle to Joseph Morgan that gained 62 yards. Two plays later, Sproles took a handoff and zipped around the left side for a 13-yard score, making it 35-20 with 7:21 remaining in the third.
The Saints continued to hold the momentum when safety Isa Abdul-Quddus intercepted Manning's pass for Bennett and returned it 12 yards to the Saints' 32-yard line. That set up a six-play, 68-yard drive that ended with Brees slipping a short pass to Sproles, who took it into the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown. With 1:51 remaining in the third quarter, the Giants' once-commanding lead was down to eight points, 35-27.
Hixon's terrific catch of Manning's pass in the right back corner of the end zone with just 20 seconds remaining in the second quarter increased the Giants' halftime lead to 21-13.
On second-and-goal from the five, Hixon used a head fake to slip past cornerback Jabari Greer before jumping up to secure the ball and land inbounds for the touchdown. The Giants traveled 69 yards in nine plays and 1:37 following a New Orleans field goal.
The big play on the drive was a 35-yard pass to Cruz, who lined up in the right slot, moved to the outside at the snap and took Manning's pass all the way to the Saints' 18-yard line. Hixon followed immediately with a nine-yard reception and Bradshaw picked up a first down with a four-yard run. Two plays later, Hixon scored.
The Saints had pulled to within a single point on Hartley field goals of 32 and 25 yards.
Big plays dominated the first quarter, which ended with the Giants holding a 14-7 lead.
Mack got it started when he stepped in front of Manning's third-down pass to Jerrel Jernigan and sprinted 73 yards up the right sideline for the game's first score with 9:38 remaining in the quarter.
Thirteen seconds later, the game was tied after Wilson's electric 97-yard kickoff return. The Giants' first-round draft choice this year, Wilson caught Garrett Hartley's kickoff, ran up the middle and then moved to his right to outrun the entire Saints coverage team.
It was the Giants' first kickoff return touchdown since Domenik Hixon's 74-yard runback against New England on Dec. 29, 2007. The Giants had played 76 regular season and nine postseason games between kickoff return touchdowns.
The Giants forced a turnover on the Saints' next possession that to led a go-ahead touchdown.
On first down from the Giants' 48-yard line, Brees threw a pass to Jed Collins, who gained two yards before Antrel Rolle forced the ball out of his hand. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph picked up the ball and returned it 16 yards to the New Orleans' 35-yard line.
A 16-yard pass to Hixon and two Saints penalties – one for defensive pass interference, the other for holding – helped move the Giants to the five-yard line. After Wilson lost a yard on first down, Manning threw to Bennett, who was wide open in the middle of the end zone. The score gave the Giants a 14-7 lead with 4:19 remaining in the first quarter.