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Saints playoff chances slim after 3rd loss in row

By TOM CANAVAN - AP Sports Writer
    2012-12-09 21:28

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - The New Orleans Saints seemed resigned to their fate after losing their third straight game: the possibility of missing the playoffs this season for a franchise that has grown accustomed to success.

The New York Giants hurt the playoff chances of the Saints (5-8) with a demoralizing 52-27 win that featured a breakout game by rookie David Wilson and four touchdown passes by Eli Manning.

Wilson returned a kickoff 97 yards for one touchdown, ran for 100 yards and two more scores and piled up a team-record 327 all-purpose yards in helping the Giants (8-5) snap a three-game losing streak against the Saints.

The best the Saints can finish is 8-8 and they would need a lot of help to get to the playoffs for a fourth straight year.

``I am more worried about us finishing strong,'' Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. ``It's been a while since we've been eliminated from the playoffs. It's tough to swallow. Unfortunately, we're not getting it done right now. I don't do all the math. All I know is that 8 and 8 this season, I seriously doubt, will be playoff potential.''

The Saints didn't help themselves. Drew Brees threw two interceptions, the team lost two fumbles and its special teams allowed New York to gain a team-record 287 yards on kickoff returns.

``Field position was a huge factor in this game,'' Brees said. ``It felt like the Giants were starting inside our territory every time and we were starting inside our 20. So, you're saying it's 30 yards field position on every possession. You add that up over 10 possessions, that's 300 yards of offense. We equate that to 21 points. Look at the score.''

Interim coach Joe Vitt said the Saints special teams had played well all season, but they came up short against New York.

``When you're losing the way we're losing, you're a fragile football team,'' he said. ``We've got a lot of new guys, a lot of new faces on this football team. We've got enough guys who are used to winning and doing things the right way. Unfortunately, right now we don't have enough of them.''

And it could get even tougher for New Orleans.

The Saints might lose Vilma this week. Former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is expected to rule on his appeal of the suspension handed down in the Bountygate case.

The Giants dominated all three phases of the game with Wilson becoming the first NFL player to have 200 yards in kickoff returns and 100 yards rushing in a game, with his total breaking the Giants mark of 303 yards set by current teammate Domenik Hixon in 2009.

The Giants (8-5) maintained their one-game lead in the NFC East over Washington and Dallas.

Manning had TD passes of 6 yards to Martellus Bennett, 5 yards to Hixon, 25 yards to Hakeem Nicks and 10 yards to Victor Cruz. Wilson scored on runs of 6 and 52 yards and reached the century mark on only 13 carries for the biggest day of his short career.

The 52 points were their most since scoring 55 against Green Bay in 1986. It also was the most given up by New Orleans, whose defense is run by former New York coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

``We've had some heartbreakers,'' Vitt said. ``We've played bad on both sides of the ball. But, this was a pounding today.''

Darren Sproles scored on a 13-yard run and caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Brees late in the third quarter, cutting the Giants lead to 35-27.

However, Jerrel Jernigan returned the ensuing kickoff 60 yards to set up Manning's touchdown pass to Cruz. New York iced the game when Stevie Brown returned one of two interceptions thrown by Brees to set up Lawrence Tynes' 39-yard field goal.

The biggest play was Wilson's kickoff return, which came one play after Elbert Mack intercepted Manning in the left flat and returned it 73 yards to give the Saints a 7-0 lead.

The touchdown came minutes after Dallas rallied for a 20-19 win over Cincinnati and Washington beat Baltimore 31-28 in overtime despite losing Robert Griffin III to a knee injury.

The Giants could have folded against a team that had routed them the past two meetings.

Instead, Wilson, who has been threatening all season to break a kickoff, fielded one at the 3, went up the middle and then veered toward the right corner of the end zone. He capped it with a somersault.

A fumble near midfield by Jed Collins led to Manning's touchdown pass to Bennett and New York never trailed again.

Manning finished 22 of 35 for 259 yards and two interceptions. Brees, who had never lost to the Giants and had eight TD passes and no interceptions in the past two games, finished 26 of 43 for 354 yards. New Orleans outgained New York 487-394, but mistakes were its undoing.

The Giants didn't cash in after Wilson's returns of 58 and 52 yards, but his 20-yarder late in the half after a short kickoff set up a 69-yard touchdown drive. Manning capped it with the fade route to Hixon.

Defensive tackle Linval Joseph returned Collins' miscue 16 yards to the Saints 35. A 16-yard pass to Hixon and a couple of penalties set up a 6-yard touchdown toss to Bennett for a 14-7 lead.

Brees took the Saints on drives of 81 and 67 yards in the second quarter, but each time the NFL's top red-zone offense settled for field goals of 32 and 25 yards by Garrett Hartley.

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