NEW ORLEANS, NOV. 22 -- The New York Giants, crowned champions of the National Football League less than a year ago, officially were pronounced dead for the season this afternoon when New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson boogied down the sideline, blowing kisses to a delirious Superdome crowd with 13 seconds remaining in his team's 23-14 triumph.

A crushing defense and the solid-gold foot of kicker Morten Andersen enabled New Orleans to overcome its own Neanderthal offense and beat the Giants, virtually eliminating New York from playoff contention.

While the Giants, now 3-7, tried to figure out what went wrong, the jubilant Saints enjoyed the biggest victory in the club's 21-year history and moved to 7-3, one game behind San Francisco in the NFC West.

The victory also marked the first time the Saints ever have won four straight games, and it put them within one victory of their first plus-.500 season and, most likely, their first trip to the playoffs.

But more importantly, for the league anyway, was the expiration of the Giants. Five weeks remain in the regular season. But something remarkable would have to happen to a half-dozen teams in the NFC for New York to make the playoffs, which is why Coach Bill Parcells and most of the Giants said afterward they have no chance.

"I'm an optimist to the end," linebacker Lawrence Taylor said. "But you've got to be realistic sometime; yes, this does eliminate us. The Fat Lady started singing weeks ago, she just finished her tune today."

Parcells tried to remain calm afterward. But when told he was handling it pretty well, Parcells said, "No, I'm not poised. You're talking to a coach who just lost a game that eliminated him. And that doesn't sit too well with me."

What also didn't sit well with him was watching his team fall apart like, well, the old Saints, after taking a 14-13 lead early in the third quarter.

With Taylor and quarterback Phil Simms standing injured on the sideline, and Joe Morris nursing his injuries back at home, New York was playing for the most part without its Super Bowl heroes (Taylor did play a few series in the first half).

Simms was missed the most, because his replacement, Jeff Rutledge, threw five interceptions and fumbled once. Saints linebacker Pat Swilling, who forced Rutledge's fumble leading to the game-winning touchdown, conceded that New York was a "handicapped team." "Rutledge is a good quarterback," he said, "but he's not Phil Simms."

In the Giants' last 10 possessions (one before halftime), Rutledge threw five intercpetions, the Giants fumbled twice, had one punt blocked, and missed a 40-yard field goal.

"The Saints made a couple of mistakes," Parcells said, "but we made more. Usually when you lose, that's where it is. We gave them too many opportunities and they were able to capitalize on enough of them."

It could have been a rout, but the Saints' offense just isn't sophisticated enough yet. But as Giants center Bart Oates said, "Their offense doesn't have to be tremendous, just efficient to score when the opposition is turning the ball over that deep in its own territory."

After Rutledge fumbled at his 27, New Orleans quarterback Bobby Hebert hit wide receiver Eric Martin for a 22-yard touchdown that put the Saints on top to stay, 20-14. The Saints had led, 13-7, at halftime before Rutledge hit Mark Bavaro for a 22-yard touchdown early in the third.

The Giants couldn't move the ball on their next series, partially because the receivers couldn't hear Rutledge's audible calls over the din of the sellout crowd of 69,035. But the noise had nothing to do with what happened on fourth down.

Sean Landetta had his punt blocked by Johnnie Poe, giving New Orleans posession at the 6. Saints Coach Jim Mora wasn't exactly inspirational with his play calling -- Rueben Mayes carried three times off tackle for minus-five yards -- but Andersen kicked his third field goal of the game, from 28 yards, for the final margin.

Thereafter, Rutledge threw two more interceptions, and the Giants were done. Most likely, for the season, even though that is not yet a mathematical certainty.

"We put ourselves in this position a long time ago," Taylor said. "You always think you'll overcome and rise to the top again. But we put ourselves in such deep trouble. We had to be perfect for every play against every team the rest of the season. And there were too many good teams. Now, we start thinking, 'What the hell are we going to do in January?' "

The Giants couldn't help but think ahead. Rutledge said, "I don't think any of us will throw the towel in; we're a bunch of professionals in this room." And Oates added, "I'm not going to concede {the season}. If it happens that we turn into spoilers, then that's what we'll be. But I think we'll be professionals about it."

"From now on, it's just playing for pride. Pride and guts," said Taylor. "We'll see who has guts. Those who don't won't be around next summer."

N.Y. Giants 0 7 7 0 14 New Orleans 3 10 0 10 23

First Quarter

NO -- FG Andersen 19, 3:57 Second Quarter

NY -- Baker 46 pass from Rutledge (Allegre kick), 1:16

NO -- Word 1 run (Andersen kick), 10:46

NO -- FG Andersen 43, 15:00 Third Quarter

NY -- Bavaro 22 pass from Rutledge (Allegre kick), 4:25 Fourth Quarter

NO -- Martin 22 pass from Hebert (Anderson kick), 8:30

NO -- FG Anderson 28, 11:34

A -- 67,739

Giants Saints First downs 16 16 Rushes-yards 17-75 37-103 Passing yards 223 175 Return yards 40 40 Passing 20-36-5 17-27-1 Sacked-yards lost 5-41 3-19 Punts-average 4-37 7-38 Fumbles-lost 3-2 1-1 Penalties-yards 6-51 5-37 Time of possession 24:33

RUSHING -- N.Y. Giants: Rouson 8-35, Adams 7-19, Galbreath 1-17, Rutledge 1-4. New Orleans: Mayes 24-84, Wo

PASSING -- N.Y. Giants: Rutledge 20-36-5, 264 yards. New Orleans: Hebert 17-27-1, 194.

RECEIVING -- N.Y. Giants: Adams 6-44, Baker 4-100, Bavaro 3-43, Manuel 3-36, Rouson 3-34, Galbreath 1-7. Ne

MISSED FIELD GOALS -- N.Y. Giants: Allegre 40.