- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin was fired up Wednesday as he addressed reporters before his 0-3 team hit the practice field. He threw some verbal jabs. He stepped out from behind the podium to mime some proper line technique. He ran through his extensive injury report rapid-fire, then cast it aside in favor of talk of this week's opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs. He declined to call this week's game a must-win.
"It's a long season," Coughlin said. "We've played three games, and we have a lot of games to go. Certainly we want to win. But are we standing on the edge of a cliff? I don't look at it that way. I see a lot of football still to be played."
Giants players would say later they took note of their coach's upbeat demeanor. And even if it's all an act, they appreciate it.
"I think he's just trying to get the emotion back into the team, and it's good," quarterback Eli Manning said. "I think, sometimes when things are tough, you can use a little false enthusiasm to pick things up. I find myself doing that out there, just moving around in and out of the huddle, 'Let's go,' things like that. So it's good to try and do that."
This is the Giants right now. There is no present reality on which to base confidence and optimism. They are 0-3. They have allowed more points and committed more turnovers than any team in the league. Manning was sacked seven times Sunday, and two of his five starting offensive linemen missed practice Wednesday with injuries.
If it weren't for false enthusiasm, the Giants would have a hard time mustering any enthusiasm at all.
And yet, things were upbeat in the locker room after practice Wednesday. No hanging of heads. No furrowing of worried brows. The Giants look like a group that believes all of the stuff it's saying: It's still early and they still have a chance to turn things around.
"We're fired up about it," wide receiver Hakeem Nicks said. "We've dug ourselves into this hole and we're going to dig ourselves out of it. I feel like we're going to come together. We've got great spirit in this locker room. We've got a bunch of fighters in here."
Yes, this is a group of players drinking the Big Blue Kool-Aid their coach and quarterback are working to sell them. And while it likely won't help them in the long run, the fact that it's impacting them in the present speaks to one of their team strengths: The Giants rely on leadership at the key spots. They've had the same head coach and the same quarterback for nine-plus seasons, and everyone in the room knows all about Coughlin's and Manning's resumes. When a coach or a quarterback stands in the middle of a locker room and tells a team everything will be okay if they just stick together, and that coach or quarterback has a pair of Super Bowl rings, the message means more. It sinks in better. It takes hold.
"We definitely believe in what Coach Coughlin is saying," Nicks said. "You've got to believe. You've got to believe that things will change, and if you believe it, if you put in the effort you need to put in, then it will change. It's still early, man. There's a lot of football left."
It is not for the men in the Giants' locker room to quit in Week 4. Only three of 115 teams to start 0-3 over the previous 23 NFL seasons reached the playoffs. While three is a small number, it's not zero. Those of us whose external perspective is based on how horrible the Giants look right now compared to the rest of the league can say there's no hope, and we're more likely to be right. But these are proud professionals who are still getting paid to do a job, and the simple mathematical fact is they're still alive.
That may sound silly to some, but when Coughlin and Manning say it to the rest of the Giants who are in the meeting rooms and on the practice field with them, it sounds perfectly reasonable. If the Giants still have anything going for them in the wake of their worst start of the Coughlin era, it's the fact that their highly decorated, level-headed leaders haven't and won't give up. Coughlin and Manning continue to sell hope and optimism. And because of all they've done here together, everybody else in the room continues to buy it.