It was a hard night in the Big Easy.
The injury-decimated Giants hoped to pull a surprise on national television Sunday night, but they couldn't compete with the New Orleans Saints. Aaron Brooks threw five touchdowns passes, four of them to Joe Horn, as the Saints blasted the Giants, 45-7, in the Superdome.
It was the worst loss suffered by the Giants since a 44-3 defeat in San Francisco in an NFC Divisional Playoff on Jan. 5, 1994, and the most lopsided regular season defeat since a 42-0 loss at Oakland on Nov. 4, 1973.
The 45 points allowed was the second-most of the Jim Fassel era; Washington beat the Giants, 50-21, on Sept. 19, 1999.
"Of course it's embarrassing when you lose 45-7," defensive end Michael Strahan said in response to a questions. "You've got to be kidding me."
"Ron Dayne had a good point," running back Tiki Barber said. "He said you remember things like this, when nothing works your way and other teams run the score up on you. That will be fuel for you down the road."
The defeat was the Giants' sixth in a row, continuing their longest slump since a seven-game streak in 1994, and the loss dropped their record to 4-10, their first double-digit loss season since they finished 6-10 in 1996, the year before Fassel arrived.
"I understand we're a shell of a team (compared with) who we had at the start of the season because we have a lot of guys out," said Fassel, whose team was missing nine injured starters. "I understand that and I'm not unrealistic. But we can play better than that. I expect the young guys that go in to learn what we're doing. We made a lot of mental mistakes, especially in coverage.
"Offensively, I understand where we are right now. But we can play a lot better than that. Some guys have to understand that they're on tape and everyone's watching them and evaluating them."
Defensive end Michael Strahan said, "I know we don't have a lot of personnel we started out with or a lot of guys we need to win, but we can do better than that. We weren't competitive in any way."
Jesse Palmer, making his first start at quarterback for the injured Kerry Collins, did his best to keep the Giants in the game. But playing behind a patchwork line and a green corps of receivers (except for Amani Toomer), Palmer had no chance. He did throw a four-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Visanthe Shiancoe but otherwise spent most of the night trying to avoid the Saints' rush.
Palmer completed 15 of 26 passes for 140 yards. He was sacked three times.
"I thought Jesse did alright, considering some things," Fassel said. "We had some routes that weren't where they were supposed to be and protection problems."
"That was a bad loss," Palmer said. "It's tough to stomach. A lot of guys didn't think it would end up like that. We have to go back and evaluate ourselves, look at the mistakes we're making and try to correct those."
The Giants gained 241 yards and scored a single touchdown for the sixth consecutive game.
"You can make all the excuses in the world, but we had opportunities to make plays out there," center Chris Bober said. "We hurt ourselves with penalties, turnovers, things like that. We'd have a chance and then we'd do something stupid. That's been our M.O. all year."
Brooks became the first Giants opponent to throw five touchdown passes in a game since the Rams' Jim Everett on Sept. 25, 1988. Horn became the first Giants opponent ever with four touchdown receptions in a game.
Brooks' first three touchdown passes went to Horn, the fourth was thrown to Jerome Pathon, and the fifth again to Horn. Cornerback Fred Thomas scored the other New Orleans touchdown when he returned a blocked field goal. The Giants special teams set up Pathon's score when Brian Mitchell fumbled away the ball on the kickoff following Horn's third touchdown.
As has been the case for several weeks, the Giants took the field with a severely depleted lineup. Their leading passer, Kerry Collins, and leading receiver, Ike Hilliard, were inactive, the former with a sprained ankle, the latter with a knee injury. Collins' absence ended a streak of 67 consecutive starts, the second-longest in team history. Hilliard, who had a team-high 60 receptions, was forced out in what would have been his first NFL game in his home state.
Palmer and rookie receiver David Tyree made their first NFL starts in their place.
Collins and Hilliard weren't the only key players who sat out. Also inactive are tight end Jeremy Shockey (missing his fifth consecutive game with a knee injury), left tackle Luke Petitgout (sitting out his third in a row) and tight end Marcellus Rivers (knee), who backs up Shockey.
The Saints turned the game into a rout by scoring two touchdowns in an 11-second span in the third period to take a 38-7 lead.
Horn's third touchdown reception, a seven-yarder with 7:35 remaining in the third period, made it 31-7. On the ensuing kickoff, Mitchell fumbled, and the ball was recovered by Orlando Ruff at the Giants' 26-yard line. On the very next play, Pathon made a diving catch in the end zone of a Brooks pass for another score.
The Giants trailed at halftime, 24-7, their largest deficit after two periods since they fell behind the Oakland Raiders, 21-3, on Nov. 25, 2001.
The Saints increased their lead to a commanding 17 points when Kenny Smith blocked Matt Bryant's 43-yard field goal attempt and Thomas picked up the ball and raced 64 yards ahead of the field for a touchdown with 3:10 left before halftime. It was the first time a Giants field goal attempt was blocked since Chicago's Mike Brown batted down a Brad Daluiso field goal try in Soldier Field on Sept. 17, 2000.
"They crushed the guys up front," Fassel said of the Saints players who rushed the field goal. "They came right over the top and crushed us."
New Orleans had extended its lead to 17-7 when Brooks threw his second touchdown pass to Horn, a 13-yarder with 5:51 remaining in the second period. That concluded a 13-play, 69-yard drive that immediately followed a Giants touchdown and took 7:14 to complete.
Horn was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after the play when fellow receiver Michael Lewis removed a cell phone from the protective padding around the goal post and Horn mimicked dialing and then talking on the phone.
Prior to the score, Brooks threw for 11 yards to Deuce McAllister and eight yards to Horn and gained nine yards on a scramble up the middle. On third-and-one from the 13, Brooks threw a strike into the end zone for Horn, who shielded the ball from cornerback Frank Walker.
The Giants got on the scoreboard when Palmer threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Shiancoe with 13:05 remaining in the second period. The touchdown, which pulled the Giants to within 10-7, was the first career scoring pass for Palmer and the first scoring catch for Shiancoe, the third-round pick in the 2003 draft. It was Shiancoe's third reception this season.
"It was great, my first-ever (NFL) touchdown pass," Palmer said of the touchdown. "I saved the ball."
The score was set up by a Giants takeaway. Late in the first period, Brooks mishandled a snap, his NFL-high 14th fumble. After a scramble, linebacker Dhani Jones came up with the ball for the Giants at the New Orleans 39-yard line.
On the first play of the second period, Palmer dropped back to pass, then scrambled for a 26-yard gain to the 12. After each team was penalized, Palmer's 10-yard pass to Dorsey Levens moved the ball to the seven.
It took the Saints just 1:59 to take a 7-0 lead. On the fifth play of the game, Brooks faked a handoff to McAllister and threw deep down the middle for Horn, who caught the ball in the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown despite being closely covered by cornerback Ralph Brown. The play capped a five-play, 64-yard drive following the opening kickoff. On the play, Brown re-injured the shoulder that was dislocated last month and did not return.
The 50-yard pass was the second-longest allowed by the Giants this season. Three weeks ago at Tampa Bay, Brad Johnson and Charles Lee hooked up for a 53-yard touchdown.
It was the third time this season the Giants allowed a touchdown on an opponent's opening possession. The Jets on Nov. 2 and the Falcons a week later also scored a touchdown the first time they had the ball. The Giants are 1-2 this season and 4-11 under Jim Fassel in games in which they allowed a touchdown on an opponent's initial possession.
After the Giants went three-and-out on their first possession, John Carney padded the Saints' lead by three points with a 35-yard field goal that made it 10-0 with 7:03 remaining in the opening period. Before the field goal, New Orleans drove 35 yards in seven plays.