Giants' D pulls disappearing act in Big Easy

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

NEW ORLEANS -- I tried to ignore the fact the Giants built their 5-0 record against some rather questionable competition. But in the aftermath of a 48-27 drubbing by the Saints, questioning the Giants' status in the NFC is fair game.

Coach Tom Coughlin better hope the Saints are the best team in the league because they made it look easy against the (former) top-rated defense in the league. Moments after the game, at least one Giants defender was trying to recall if Saints quarterback Drew Brees was ever touched Sunday. Nope, Brees was long gone by the time linebacker Chase Blackburn recorded the first sack.

This was supposed to be a battle of NFC heavyweights, but in all honesty, the Giants didn't belong on the same field as the Saints. Time after time, Brees dropped back and threw to whomever Giants safety C.C. Brown was covering. And when that finally got old, he tossed a couple of touchdowns in cornerback Kevin Dockery's direction.

Brees was 23-of-30 for 369 yards and four touchdowns. He released the ball before there was anything close to a pass rush, in part, because receivers were allowed to race across the field unattended. He targeted Marques Colston and Lance Moore a combined 15 times -- and they caught 14 of those passes for 244 yards. Playing without injured linebacker Michael Boley, the Giants looked old and slow.

For reasons that were not explained after the game, the Giants allowed the Saints to lure them into a shootout. We'll never know what could've happened if offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride had slowed the game down with the running game, although I suspect the Saints would've prevailed. Under Sean Payton, the Saints had been notoriously bad -- Brees called them "awful" -- coming off the bye week. On Sunday, though, they were brilliant on offense and opportunistic on defense.

In wins over the Buccaneers, Chiefs and Raiders, the Giants were able to mask some of their weaknesses on defense. They signed Boley to a lucrative free-agent contract because he's capable of covering athletic tight ends and running backs in the open field. They knew Brown didn't have the coverage skills of Kenny Phillips -- out for the season with a knee injury -- but they hoped he could elevate his game. On Sunday, he looked completely lost. Even when he was in position, Saints wide receivers treated him as nothing more than a nuisance.

"We had two people in spots a couple of times on the deep ball and didn't make a play," Coughlin said after the game. "They would go up and get the ball and we're standing on the ground. We've got to locate the ball and get up as if the ball is ours."

Brown finished with a team-leading 13 tackles, but too many of them came after huge gains by the Saints. I kept trying to figure out why the Giants didn't give recent addition Aaron Rouse a chance to play. It seemed punitive to let Brown endure the Brees-led onslaught.

But to be fair, Brown had plenty of help. A somewhat questionable pass interference call on cornerback Corey Webster in the second quarter gave the Saints a 35-yard penalty and first-and-10 at the Giants' 12-yard line. They quickly made it 27-10 and the Giants were pretty much done.

The Saints had enough success in the running game that they were able to freeze Giants defenders in the play-action passing game. In the second half, Giants defensive backs were reduced to shouting at each other after touchdowns. It's not what we've been accustomed to from this Giants team -- and they seemed stunned by the whipping in the postgame locker room.

"It was a very humbling experience," said Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora. "It's definitely a shock. I thought for sure we were going to play better than we did."

About the only solace Giants players could find was that the decisive loss happened early in the season. And if misery loves company, the Redskins and Eagles were there to offer a little support Sunday with losses to the Chiefs and Raiders. At least one player admitted that a relatively easy schedule may have lulled the Giants to sleep.

"It was a step up in competition," said defensive tackle Barry Cofield of playing the Saints. "It was like going from J.V. to varsity the way they were playing offensively."

In his first game in the Superdome, New Orleans native Eli Manning was 14-of-31 for 178 yards and a touchdown. But it was his interception early in the second half that ended any hopes of a comeback. Manning walked to the team bus flanked by his parents, Archie and Olivia. Archie knows all too well what it feels like to have a tough day in this building.

Several players told me they were hoping to see the Saints again in the playoffs. I'm not sure that's a great idea at this point.

A little revenge: Facing a first-and-goal from the Giants' 1-yard line, everyone in the building seemed to know that Brees was going to tight end Jeremy Shockey. The former Giants Pro Bowler raced away from linebacker Danny Clark on the play and snatched a touchdown catch to put the Saints up 14-0.

"I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel a little bit better than some teams," Shockey said. "I had been in that system for six years and know a lot of the players, coaches and trainers. It was a little awkward, but it was all about getting that win. They were 5-0 and now it is our turn to be 5-0."