EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (Dec. 24, 2006) -- If you want to know how quickly things change in the NFL, take a look at the New Orleans Saints and the New York Giants.
In that same period, Tom Coughlin may go from the man who led the Giants to the NFC East title to the unemployment line.
"That would be a tremendous accomplishment considering everything that happened last year with these guys, what they went through," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said of the potential bye a year after New Orleans posted a 3-13 record.
"With all the new turnover, a new coach, new assistants, a lot of new faces, including myself; when you have a good group of people and you come together for one kind of purpose it's amazing what you can accomplish."
Rookie sensation Reggie Bush ran for a career-best 126 yards and a touchdown, Deuce McAllister had 108 yards rushing and a TD and the defense limited New York to six first downs and 142 yards in a rout that turned Giants Stadium into a ghost town in the fourth quarter.
The Saints can clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC if Dallas loses either of its final two games (Philadelphia on Monday and Detroit next weekend), or New Orleans wins at home against Carolina.
"It would be huge getting a bye," said receiver Marques Colston, who caught a go-ahead 2-yard touchdown pass late in the first half on one of three successful fourth-down gambles by Payton. "We have a couple of guys who are hurting and it would give us a week to rest. We could use it."
Atlanta, which was beaten by Carolina 10-3, the Panthers, Green Bay, and St. Louis also have the same mark heading into the final week of the season in the race for the now-tainted second wild-card berth in the NFC.
"I feel badly for all Giants fans to come here on Christmas Eve and then for us to lose the game the way we lost it," Coughlin said. "It's embarrassing."
The sellout crowd let Coughlin know it was upset, twice chanting "Fire Coughlin" before heading for the exits.
"I didn't expect them to cheer us," Giants center Shaun O'Hara said. "It's Christmas and everyone wants to be merry. They are obviously upset with us and they have a right to be."
Brees' touchdown pass to Colston gave New Orleans a 13-7 halftime lead. Bush added a little insurance with a 1-yard TD run on an end around in the third quarter and McAllister scored on a 9-yard run early in the fourth quarter, emptying the stadium.
John Carney kicked field goals of 32, 26 and 38 yards.
Plaxico Burress caught a 55-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning on the opening series. Retiring halfback Tiki Barber gained 71 yards on 16 carries in his final home game.
Bush, whose previous best rushing effort was 67 yards in the season opener, was the star of this game. He had 10 touches for 70 yards on the Saints go-ahead, 18-play, 89-yard drive late in the first half. The former Southern California back also had a punt return for a touchdown reversed.
The only thing he did wrong was bolt out of the locker room after the game without talking to the media.
Brees, who came into the day with more than 4,000 yards passing and 25 TDs, finished 13 of 32 for 132 yards on a day his receivers dropped at least eight passes.
Manning hit his first six passes, including the 55-yard score to Burress. Saints cornerback Fred Thomas slipped and fell on the play.
"Today was awful," said Manning, who hit three of his final 19 passes, finishing with 74 yards. "We never had anything quite like this. We've had some tough games and games where we didn't finish well, but today, we didn't do anything."
Even the return of seven-time Pro Bowl defensive Michael Strahan didn't help. He played for the first time since spraining a foot on Nov. 5.
Leading 7-0, the tide seemed to turn when Giants returner Chad Morton muffed a punt early in the first quarter, setting up Carney's first field goal.
Saints WR Joe Horn missed his third straight game with a groin injury and SS Omar Stoutmire missed second straight game with an injured knee. ... The Giants introduced only one player before the game -- Barber. ... Morton tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee covering a punt in the second quarter.