Saints Clinch First-Round Bye

Who'd have thought it at the beginning of the season? New Orleans has clinched a first-round bye and the second seed in the NFL playoffs after their domination of the Giants on Sunday and Dallas' loss to the Eagles on Monday.

It turned out to be a Merry Christmas for the Saints after all.

Unhappy with the way they played in clinching the NFC South title a week earlier, which they did despite a 16-10 loss to the Washington Redskins, the Saints were zeroed in during Sunday's key matchup with the New York Giants.

Focusing on both sides of the ball -- especially after the Giants took a quick 7-0 lead -- the Saints celebrated their division title and got into the holiday spirit with 30 unanswered points in a dominating 30-7 victory at Giants Stadium.

With the easy win, the Saints (10-5) put themselves in position to clinch the second seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. With Dallas' loss to the Eagles on Monday, the Saints earned that spot regardless of their outcome against the Panthers this Sunday in their regular season finale.

"Last week left a sour taste in our mouths, winning the division the way we did," running back Deuce McAllister said after the Saints won for the fourth time in their last five outings. "This is going to make Christmas go a lot better. Coming off a win always makes it a little better."

McAllister and the Saints' offense pounded the Giants for a season-high 236 rushing yards, while the defense held the Giants to 142 total yards and six first downs -- including just two in the second half.

In limiting the Giants to six first downs, the Saints equaled the franchise record for fewest first downs allowed in a game. But that was just the start for the Saints, who now have double-digit wins for only the sixth time in the 40-year history of the franchise. They got back on track after the loss to the Redskins by focusing only on the Giants.

Panthers DE Julius Peppers sacks Falcons QB Michael Vick (Nick Laham/Getty Images)
On a windy day that was more conducive to running the football, the Saints got 126 yards from Reggie Bush and 108 from McAllister. They each had a touchdown run, Bush scoring on a one-yard dash in the third quarter and McAllister on a nine-yard burst up the middle in the fourth period. They helped the Saints control the ball for 40 minutes, 34 seconds to only 19:26 for the Giants (7-8), who lost for the sixth time in their last seven games.

"We hoped that we would be able to run the ball," quarterback Drew Brees said. "You want to be balanced, but we looked at the windy conditions and decided we were going to take shots with the wind and run it against the wind. In the second half, we saw we could do both in either direction."

Brees also threw a 2-yard scoring pass to Marques Colston in the second quarter, but the running game -- which ranked 25th going into the game with 104.6 yards a game -- stole the show.

Meanwhile, the Saints' defense was solid after giving up a 55-yard scoring pass from Eli Manning to wide receiver Plaxico Burress on the Giants' first series. The Giants managed 75 yards on their final 13 possessions.

"I thought we played outstanding on defense. We ran the ball well, we didn't turn it over and played a real good complimentary game against a good team on the road," Payton said. "The guys did a good job staying focused on the task at hand. I'm proud of this team. Our defense was magnificent."

--SS Omar Stoutmire missed his second straight game with a knee injury when the Saints went against the New York Giants on Sunday.
--SS Jay Bellamy, a 13-year veteran, started again on Sunday in place of Stoutmire.
--WR Joe Horn, who has a groin injury, was sidelined for the third straight game against the Giants.
--WR Terrance Copper started in Horn's place against the Giants. Copper sprained his left ankle in the fourth quarter and did not return.
--TE Mark Campbell returned to the starting lineup after missing one game with a knee injury.
--DT Willie Whitehead made his first start of the season, replacing Rodney Leisle, when he took the field for the Saints' first defensive play.
--DE Josh Cooper suffered a pulled muscle in the third quarter and did not return.

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