EAST RUTHERFORD — Rookie David Wilson was given a simple piece of advice by special-teams coach Tom Quinn before the New York Giants’ game against the New Orleans Saints: “Run fast.”
The first-round draft pick did more than that. He might have provided the spark that gets the defending Super Bowl champions back to the playoffs with several electrifying kickoff returns and big-gainers on handoffs from Eli Manning.
Wilson sprinted 97 yards on a kickoff return for one touchdown, ran for 100 yards and two more scores and piled up a team-record 327 all-purpose yards in a 52-27 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Manning, meanwhile, chipped in with four touchdown passes.
“To come up and have a breakout game like this is an excellent feeling,” said Wilson, who became the first NFL player to have 200 yards in kickoff returns and 100 yards rushing in a game.
“You want to have a good game every game. I went out there and my teammates went out there and we played great and put up 50 points.”
The performance could not have come in a bigger game. It allowed the Giants (8-5) to maintain their one-game lead in the NFC East over Washington and Dallas.
In all but ending the playoff hopes of Drew Brees and the Saints (5-8), the Giants showed they again can be a force in the postseason if they can get there.
New York snapped a three-game losing streak against the Saints, who turned over the ball four times in losing their third straight.
“Honestly, this is our playoffs,”Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. “These are playoff-type games. The teams we’re going to play, the atmosphere we’re going to play in, this is what it is about. This is the type of football that leads into the playoffs and this is what we need.”
Manning had TD passes of 6 yards to Martellus Bennett, 5 yards to Hixon, 25 yards to Hakeem Nicks and 10 yards to Cruz. Wilson scored on runs of 6 and 52 yards and hit 100 yards on only 13 carries for the biggest day of his short career.
The 52 points are the most for the Giants 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.
“I wouldn’t say we’re fragile,” said linebacker Jonathan Vilma, whose fate for the balance of the season might be decided Tuesday when former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue hands down a decision on his Bountygate suspension appeal. “I wouldn’t know what to call it. We’re accustomed to finding ways to win. This year, we’re just not good enough to overcome a lot of the mistakes. We have to be more conscious in games and more detail oriented in practice about how we handle our business on Sundays.
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 his two interceptions of 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.
Manning, Tuck and safety Antrel Rolle all said they knew the results of the other games by halftime, at least the Redskins’ game.
“Our concern for the next three weeks is the New York Giants and that’s all we can focus on,” said Manning, who completed 22-of-35 for 259 yards.
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.
“That was huge,” Rolle said. “That was huge. He has always been a fraction away from breaking it all year long and guys have been constantly pushing him to do it.”
A fumble near midfield Jed Collins led to Manning’s touchdown pass to Bennett and New York never trailed again.
Brees, who had never lost to the Giants and had eight TD passes and no interceptions in the last 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.
Notes: Hixon had the old Giants single-season record for all-purposes yards at 303 in 2009. ...Wilson also set a single-season record for kickoff return yards with 1,301 yard. ... Brown has broken the Giants single-season record for interception return yards with 259 on seven interceptions. The old mark of 251 was set by Dick Lynch and Emlen Tunnell. ... Patrick Robinson had the Saints’ other interception of Manning. Joseph Morgan has two catches for 106 yards for New Orleans.