NEW ORLEANS - Drew Brees took a few triumphant strides toward the goal post with the ball in his hand and rose up for an imitation, Michael Jordan-style dunk over the crossbar.
He had to settle for a finger-roll instead.
It was one of the few times Brees came up short Monday night as the New Orleans Saints made everything look easy in a 49-24 victory over the slumping New York Giants, who have lost three straight.
"I was a little more tired than I thought I would be," Brees said of his celebration, which came right after he finished an 8-yard scramble with a dive into the end zone. "I do apologize to MJ."
Brees was prepared for a little ribbing from teammates and coaches, but they mainly complimented him after he passed for 363 yards and four touchdowns, in addition to his scoring run.
"There's that confidence that players around him have, and obviously we have in him," Saints coach Sean Payton said of Brees. "He made some fantastic throws tonight."
Tight end Jimmy Graham had five catches for 84 yards, including touchdowns of 5 and 29 yards. Brees' two other scoring strikes went to Lance Moore, who had five catches for 54 yards.
"Can't say enough about our team. Our coaches, offense, defense - it was a great team win tonight in every aspect," Brees said.
This was a game New York was desperate to win after losing its previous two to San Francisco and Philadelphia.
Instead, the Giants (6-5) dropped a game behind first-place Dallas in the NFC East and face the possibility of a four-game losing streak when they host the unbeaten Green Bay Packers next weekend.
"We didn't stop them. How much further explanation do you want?" said Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whose defense was unable to sack Brees. "We prepared well, but when we got in the game we didn't cover well. When we don't get to the passer, we have trouble."
The Saints (8-3), meanwhile, maintained a one-game lead over Atlanta in the NFC South.
They also padded their rushing stats with 205 yards on the ground, including touchdown runs of 12 yards by Pierre Thomas and 35 yards by rookie Mark Ingram.
"Our guys came out sharp," Payton said. "We felt like this was going to be tough opponent coming in with two losses they had prior to our game. ... We had the balance we were looking for. I thought we ran it well tonight."
Marques Colston had three catches for 78 yards, all on the Saints' 34-second, 88-yard touchdown drive late in the second quarter that gave New Orleans a 21-3 halftime lead. Colston's longest reception went for 50 yards when he caught a pass along the left sideline, slipped a tackle and raced up field.
The Giants took a beating on the scoreboard and on the field. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora went out with a sprained ankle and receiver Hakeem Nicks was rocked on a vicious hit by Saints rookie safety Isa Abdul-Quddus.
Nicks stayed in the game despite bruised ribs.
New York already was missing two key players because of injuries: leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw and wide receiver Mario Manningham.
"It's hard not to know when you're getting your butt whipped, but I didn't see any moping I was concerned about," Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck said. "We played hard, (but) it's hard to smile when you're losing like that."
Eli Manning completed 21 straight passes for the Giants - mostly after the outcome was decided. New York did not get into the end zone until Brandon Jacobs steamrolled safety Roman Harper on an 8-yard scoring run that made it 21-10 in the third quarter, but the Saints went right back down the field and scored on Brees' 8-yard scramble.
After Giants running back Da'Rell Scott fumbled on his own 29, Brees connected with Graham, who rumbled down the left sideline and dove for the pylon for his second TD of the game, and his team-leading eighth receiving score of the season.
The Saints never trailed, striking first early in the second quarter on Brees' 4-yard touchdown pass to Moore, who snagged a quick throw on the right side and dove to stretch the ball across the goal line before he was tackled.
The 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive included a 23-yard pass to Graham and a 23-yard run by Darren Sproles, and it was the first of three touchdown drives of more than 80 yards in the opening half.
"We can always get better. There's always something to prove. The challenges only get greater as you move through the season," Brees said before looking ahead to his team's next game. "Sunday night football next week, we got Detroit coming to town, on a short week, so we're going to have to get ourselves back on track out here pretty quick and ready for that game."
Back home in the Big Easy, Manning passed for 406 yards. He was intercepted by linebacker Will Herring in the end zone on the team's first series.
The only scoring the Giants managed in the first half was Lawrence Tynes' 42-yard field goal. Tynes also attempted a 61-yarder, which fell short, at the end of the half.
The Giants, who have been struggling to run the ball all season, gained only 73 yards on the ground.
Notes: Brees took back the NFL passing lead from Tom Brady. Brees now has 3,689 yards, keeping him on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season mark of 5,084 set in 1984. ... Brees has passed for at least one TD in 38 straight games, the second-longest streak in NFL history. ... The Saints' total of 577 yards was the second-highest in franchise history. ... The Giants lowered their already anemic rushing average to 82.3 yards per game.
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