The New York Giants today gave a meaningless football game a bad name.

The team that was in first place in the NFC East one week ago lost for the second time in a miserable week, 10-3, to the lowly New Orleans Saints before a surprisingly large gathering of 63,739 at Giants Stadium.

The Giants now are 9-7 and can make the playoffs as a wild card only if both St. Louis and Dallas lose. The Cardinals play the Washington Redskins at 1 p.m. Sunday at RFK Stadium; the Cowboys play Monday night at Miami.

If they do make the playoffs, they will do it in their living rooms, not on the field.

"I don't know if I even want to go through with it," New York quarterback Phil Simms said of watching those games on television. "Why go through the mental torture?"

Perhaps the physical torture was enough. The Giants simply saved their worst for last. In their previous 15 games, they scored at least one touchdown. Not today. They were averaging 340 yards per game. They gained 189 today. They allowed an average of three sacks on Simms all season, but gave up seven today.

"It's a pretty dismal finish to a pretty good year," said New York defensive end George Martin.

There is one huge consolation: it doesn't matter. This was a game that had absolutely no bearing on the playoffs; if the Giants had won, they would have had the same playoff possibilities as they have now.

But it's very likely this situation -- not the 7-9 Saints -- doomed the Giants.

Just before the game, New York linebacker Harry Carson, the team captain, called a special meeting.

"He and I talked," Martin said, "and we sensed something was very flat."

The Giants call only two or three of these meetings a year, so this was serious.

At halftime, the Saints led, 7-3. So Carson called another meeting. It still didn't work.

"I don't know if it (the meaningless nature of the game) was in the back of our minds or not," Martin said. "I would like to hope not."

The torrent of comments rushing from the Giants' locker room seemed to indicate not.

"It wasn't meaningless to me," Coach Bill Parcells said, chomping hard on some over-worked chewing gum. "It was just meaningless to you guys (the media)."

And Simms, who completed just 12 of 26 passes for 127 yards, and had two intercepted, blurted out, "We had no reason for losing. Maybe there was no emotion out there, but we should have beat a team we're better than."

The Saints took whatever control there was in a rudderless game on their first possession, when they drove 72 yards to the game's only touchdown.

On second and goal from the two-yard line, quarterback Dave Wilson, who is expected to undergo shoulder surgery soon, faked to halfback George Rogers and threw a swing pass to fullback Hokie Gajan, coming out of the backfield.

The Giants, who will be haunted by missed opportunities, moved to the New Orleans three on their next drive before running back Joe Morris' three-yard touchdown run was called back on a holding call on wide receiver Byron Williams.

Simms was sacked two plays later, forcing Ali Haji-Sheikh to come in for a 37-yard field goal early in the second quarter.

The next New York possession was even more frustrating. Haji-Sheikh kicked a 48-yard field goal to apparently cut the Saints' lead to 7-6, but Lawrence Taylor was called for holding on the line, and the Giants were forced to punt.

And it happened again several minutes later. On fourth and goal at the two, Morris took a handoff and wanted to go inside, but was forced outside by the New Orleans linebackers and was trapped by linebacker Whitney Paul for no gain.

"Their defense just played fantastic against the run today," said Morris, who gained 29 of the Giants' 113 yards. "Their linebackers' play inside forced us to take it outside, and we didn't run effectively there."

The Giants reached the New Orleans eight early in the third quarter before Simms was sacked twice and Haji-Sheikh shanked a 40-yard field-goal attempt.

"We had our chances," Parcells said. Was he surprised? "Yeah. I thought we would score more than three points."

New Orleans' Morten Andersen added a 37-yard field goal in the fourth quarter for the 10-3 margin. It should also be noted that the fans gave the Giants a standing ovation for making a first down midway through the final quarter.

By the end of the game, most of the fans were gone. So was most of the players' hope for the receding playoffs.

"As far as I'm concerned," Carson said, "our season's over."