|Giants fans flipped over David Wilson's performance Sunday against the Saints. (US Presswire)|
Giants rookie KR/RB David Wilson didn’t get his usual assignment sheet from special teams coordinator Tom Quinn this week. Following Monday’s loss to the Redskins -- a game in which the Giants were called for two costly penalties on kick returns and finished with a mediocre 20.8 yard kick return average -- the scheme was simplified and Wilson was just told to run “fast.”
Apparently, that’s all he needed.
Wilson set a franchise record with 327 all-purpose yards during the Giants’ 52-27 win over the Saints at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. The first-round pick returned four kicks on Sunday, recording a 97-yard touchdown and a total of 227 yards in addition to accumulating 100 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries on offense. In doing so, Wilson became the first player in NFL history with 200 kick return yards and 100 rushing yards in the same game.
Coach Tom Coughlin, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and Quinn all voiced concerns over the Giants’ field position in recent weeks and C Jim Cordle, who was guilty of the aforementioned penalties on Monday, said the team returned to a more “downhill” scheme against the Saints. New Orleans eventually adjusted to New York’s return game and began leaving kickoffs a bit short, but that didn’t work either. WR/KR Jerrel Jernigan took one such kick 60 yards down to the Saints’ 25-yard line to set up a 10-yard touchdown pass from QB Eli Manning to WR Victor Cruz.
And the defense wasn’t without its highlights.
S Stevie Brown set the Giants’ record for interception return yardage in one season thanks to two picks on Sunday (his sixth and seventh of the season) and both he and S Antrel Rolle forced fumbles, which were recovered by teammates.
The Saints did have their moments. WR Joe Morgan had two catches for 106 yards and QB Drew Brees finished with 354 passing yards and a touchdown on 26-of-43 passing. But their turnovers and failures on special teams ultimately dropped the Saints to 5-8, which all but eliminates them from postseason play.
If the 8-5 Giants were hoping to follow last year’s script all the way to the Super Bowl, they definitely hit their cue on Sunday. Just as in 2011, when a December loss to the Washington Redskins’ sparked a six-game winning streak that ended with the franchise’s fourth Lombardi Trophy, the Giants suddenly appeared revitalized.
When the game turned: Giants WR Domenik Hixon gave the Giants a tremendous boost going into the half when he hauled in Manning’s 5-yard fade pass to the right corner of the end zone. Hixon turned and dove backward to avoid the outstretched arm of New Orleans CB Jabari Greer. The score gave the Giants’ a 21-13 lead with 25 seconds remaining in the second quarter, and ended a 6-0 run for the Saints.
Hixon hadn’t caught a touchdown pass since Week 2 of last season. That catch, like his touchdown reception on Sunday, happened just before the Giants went into the half, but unlike 2011, Hixon didn’t tear his ACL on the play.
Highlight moments: Three of Wilson’s four returns were highlight worthy (one was just good), but it was his second -- the touchdown -- that was the prettiest. Unlike the first return of the game, when Saints P Thomas Morstead ultimately forced him into the arms of Saints defensive backs Elbert Mack and Isa Abdul-Quddus, Wilson chose a different lane, got Morstead turned around, and finished the run with his lethal speed. The Saints had just scored on Mack’s interception return for a touchdown, so Wilson’s play tossed the momentum back in the Giants’ favor. … Brown’s second interception return ended a promising drive for the Saints. Brees was looking for TE Jimmy Graham when Brown popped up to catch the pass before squirting outside another 70 yards. Four plays later, K Lawrence Tynes hit a 39-yard field goal to give New York a 45-27 lead with 11:50 remaining. … The Saints did have some highlight plays of their own. In addition to Mack’s touchdown, RB Darren Sproles had a brilliant 13-yard touchdown in which Brees faked a bootleg, drawing Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul in his direction and ultimately allowing Sproles to run in along the left sideline. … The biggest run of the day belonged to Wilson, who had a 52-yard touchdown with 5:10 remaining. Manning pitched left to Wilson on the play and he didn’t have a soul in front of him once he crossed the line of scrimmage.
- Giants RB/KR David Wilson -- Wilson had 327 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns, becoming the first player in Giants’ history with two rushing touchdowns and a kick return for a touchdown in the same game.
- Giants S Stevie Brown -- Brown tied for the team lead with seven total tackles in addition to his two interceptions and a forced fumble. What was nearly as impressive was the way he defended Graham, who had 84 yards against the Giants last year and just 56 yards on Sunday.
- Saints WR Joe Morgan -- He was targeted only twice, but still recorded 106 total yards. One of his catches led to Sproles’ touchdown, but the other led to a punt.
What they said about S Antrel Rolle’s mid-week statement that the Giants needed to play nastier:
- Giants DE/SLB Mathias Kiwanuka: “For him to be vocal is nothing new to us. He says it in the media only a couple of times, but he’s usually a pretty vocal guy so we’re used to hearing his voice. And like I said, he’s right on target.”
What they said about the Saints’ playoff chances:
- Saints MLB Jonathan Vilma -- “I don’t do all that math. I just know 8-8 this season I seriously doubt is going to be playoff-potential.”
What they said about the Giants’ kick returns:
- Giants coach Tom Coughlin: “It was good, hard, fast running, but obviously there was some good blocking as well. And we stayed away from the penalties, too, which, God Almighty, is discouraging.”
- Vilma: “It just was tough knowing that if you give up a first down, they’re already in field goal range. If you give up two first downs, whatever it is, one missed read, you give up a touchdown instead of just a long catch.”
What they said about David Wilson’s day:
- Giants DE Justin Tuck : “I don’t know what took him so long… Now that it’s on tape, we’re going to expect that from him every game.”
- Giants DE/SLB Mathias Kiwanuka: “He came in, everybody knew he had speed, everybody knew he was a talent, but I think somewhere halfway through the season, where most rookies hit that wall, he started picking it up. You saw him finishing runs in practice every day. So this is kind of one of those things where you wanted to see him succeed because he’s put the work in in practice.”
Numbers you should know: The Giants set a franchise single-game record with 287 total kick return yards, breaking the previous mark of 274 yards set against the Redskins in 1966. ... This was the first time the Giants broke the 50-point barrier since they beat the Packers, 55-24, in 1986. ... Brown’s 259 INT return yards broke Dick Lynch’s franchise single-season record. ... The Saints outgained (487 yards to 394) and out-possessed (30:18 to 29:42) the Giants, but were ultimately undone by poor special teams play and red zone defense (Giants scored on four of five opportunities).
Injury update: Giants -- CB Prince Amukamara left the game with a hamstring injury, but he told CBSSports.com (while ordering a pizza) that he could have returned. He was told it was unnecessary because the Giants had a late lead. He believes he’ll have it tested on Monday. RB Ahmad Bradshaw (left knee) and Cruz (shoulder) each suffered injuries, but returned. WR Hakeem Nicks had X-rays on something, but neither he nor Coughlin seemed concerned. Saints -- Sproles injured his right knee, but returned, while RT Zach Strief (ankle), FS Malcolm Jenkins (right leg), Vilma (left arm) and WR Devery Henderson (ankle) also suffered injuries.
Going forward: Giants -- The Giants have road games against the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens before finishing the season at home against the Eagles. They still hold a one-game lead over the Redskins and Cowboys for first place in the NFC East. Saints -- New Orleans is at home against the Buccaneers next week before traveling to face the Cowboys in Week 16 and ultimately finishing the season at home against the Panthers.
Follow the Giants and Alex Raskin @CBSGiants and @AlexRaskinNYC.
Follow Saints reporter Guerry Smith on Twitter @CBSSaints.