NEW ORLEANS - In the end, it wasn't even Drew Brees who beat the Giants.
Sure, his NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes helped put the Saints in position to win an offensive carnival that was as frantic and electrifying as a Mardi Gras party. But the Giants still had a chance to win Sunday's game -- or at least head into overtime and take their chances there -- before crumbling in the final 30 seconds.
Eli Manning, at the end of one of the best games of his career, threw a pair of incompletions in a span of 10 seconds, one of them just beyond the reach of Rueben Randle and the other dropped by Dwayne Harris, forcing the Giants to punt. Marcus Murphy returned it 24 yards before fumbling, the Saints' Willie Snead recovered it, and punter Brad Wing grabbed his facemask while tackling him.
The return and penalty gave the Saints the ball at the Giants' 32 with five seconds remaining, close enough for Kai Forbath to kick a 50-yard field goal as time expired to give the Saints a 52-49 win.
"We did pretty much everything we could do on one side of the ball," Tom Coughlin said of the Giants' gaudy offensive numbers. "We also got a defensive touchdown. It should have been enough. It wasn't."
Manning and Brees combined for the most touchdown passes in a single game with 13, breaking a record that stood alone for 46 years. Brees tied the league record of seven TD passes in a single game, which had been done seven times previously. The teams totaled 1,030 offensive yards, and their 101 combined points were the third-most in NFL history.
"It was a wild one," Manning said. "I don't know if I played in one quite like that with that many touchdowns back and forth . . . There was a lot of offense, just a wild one, and I wish we could have come out on top of it."
The two late incompletions by Manning were incongruent with the rest of the game. Randle came within inches of catching a deep pass on first-and-10 and then Harris, who already had caught two touchdown passes, dropped a third-and-5 pass to force the punt.
"Offensively, we have to do a better job at that point in time," said Odell Beckham Jr., who was not targeted on the Giants' final possession. "We practice those situations and we have to go out and execute. Get the ball down the field and let Josh [Brown] kick the game-winning field goal and get out of here. But it didn't end up happening that way."
Instead, it went the exact opposite way.
"It's not fun to have to sit back and watch a field goal go up and you're just on the sideline," Beckham said of his vantage point for the final play. "You just have to watch and hopefully they miss. He hit it today and it's just unfortunate how the whole thing unfolded at the end."
After all of the offense, it nearly was the defense that helped the Giants win. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie drilled receiver Snead with a clean hit as he was catching a pass from Brees. The ball popped in the air and was caught on the fly by Trumaine McBride, who returned the fumble 63 yards to make it 49-42 with 7:11 left. That came after Harris caught two straight touchdown passes -- after being carted off the field in the first half -- and the Giants erased their second 14-point deficit of the game.
But it also left plenty of time for Brees and the Saints to tie it on a 9-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Spiller with 36 seconds left.
"We didn't stop them enough," Coughlin said. "We got the lead in the game. We should have won the game. We didn't win the game."
The Giants haven't done that here since 1993. Manning, who was raised in New Orleans, fell to 0-3 in his NFL career at the Superdome.
The Giants do, however, retain sole possession of first place in the NFC East with a 4-4 record. Washington and Philadelphia (both 3-4) had byes this week and Dallas (2-5) lost to Seattle. But that did little to help the mood of the team on its way out of town.
Randle said he -- like most everyone else -- had never been involved in such a shootout.
"It's just unfortunate," he said, "we didn't pull it out in the end."