Commentary

Evaluate Coughlin on next two games

The coach took blame for Sunday's meltdown, but the final two weeks will be telling

Updated: December 21, 2010, 7:58 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants guard Rich Seubert said he tried to forget the Sunday's disaster against the Philadelphia Eagles by watching the Green Bay Packers play the New England Patriots later that night. By daybreak on Monday, Giants quarterback Eli Manning had decided to give his first-ever solo speech to his fellow players when the Giants reported for work. And Giants coach Tom Coughlin? If it makes all those people who are wrongly calling for Coughlin's head today feel any better, this is how Coughlin coped with the his team's 38-31 meltdown:

"I sat in a room with the lights turned off for 2 hours," Coughlin said at his Monday media conference.

A few reporters laughed. Coughlin didn't.

"It's not funny -- it's not supposed to be that way," Coughlin added.

Wait, he was asked: You really did sit in a dark room?

"Sure I did," Coughlin said. "What else was I supposed to do? Join in on festivities? On what time of the year [it is]?"

As of Sunday, the Eagles' old Miracle at the Meadowlands -- Herm Edwards' infamous game-winning touchdown return of Giants' quarterback Joe Pisarcik's fumble -- has been eclipsed by a new Giants' debacle that one headline writer has called "The Nightmare Before Christmas," a nickname that should stick.

And Coughlin knows what happens next.

When you're the head coach of a team that gives up 21 points in the last eight minutes of a showdown for a division title, when you fail to send out your most sure-handed return team to offset the possibility of a Eagles' onside kick, and then you watch a rookie punter, Matt Dodge, fail to kick the ball out of bounds as ordered with 14 seconds left -- thus giving the Eagles' DeSean Jackson, only one of the most dangerous offensive players in the league, a crack at what turned out to be the first walkoff punt return in NFL history -- people are sure to start calling for your head.

"Line up at the corner. Blame me. I can take it," Coughlin nodded.

If the Giants lay down and die these next two games, then Giants management can't be blamed for letting Coughlin go with one year left on his contract.

Otherwise, the Giants would be looking at committing another extension of three years or so to a man who has now presided over two straight December collapses and turns 65 next season when, instead, they could be chasing one of the other available quality head coaching candidates who could set them up for the next 10 years.

Matt Dodge
AP Photo/Evan PinkusMatt Dodge's punt to DeSean Jackson capped a less-than-memorable day for Tom Coughlin and the Giants.
But Coughlin doesn't deserve to get fired over just Sunday's game.

Judge him on the next two.

Giants general manager Jerry Reese and owner John Mara both declined interview requests Monday. But Mara did react after Sunday's loss to a rather conspicuously timed report that aired just before kickoff saying that former Steelers coach Bill Cowher would put the Giants' job at the top of his "wish list."

Mara told the New York Daily News the Cowher story was too "ridiculous" for him to comment on.

Reese wrote back in an e-mail message Monday: "We are in the middle of the playoff race right now. It's not an appropriate time for me as the GM to critique or offer commentary on the coaches or the players. Those guys are in the arena battling. My job is to support them the best I can and they have my support 100 percent."

But check back in two weeks.

Crazy as it sounds just hours after such a nightmare, Coughlin has actually done an admirable job in difficult circumstances this year. The Giants are still 9-5 and can make the playoffs if they beat the Packers in Green Bay on Sunday.

People forget at the start of this season many picked the Giants to finish third in their division behind Dallas and Washington. There were questions about the Giants' defense, wide receivers, and whether the offensive line was too old.

When the Giants are healthy, all of those things have turned out to be strengths of the team -- especially new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's defense, which began Sunday ranked No. 2 in the league and had played great until the last eight minutes against Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, a guy who should merely be the NFL's MVP.

So as historically, emotionally, stylistically awful as Sunday's loss was -- and Coughlin admitted of all the bad losses he's been through, "I'd say it's the worst one that I want to remember" -- the Giants were smart, not delusional, to dwell on how hacked off they are now, as well as all that's still possible for them come playoff time.

"If we win, we're in," Manning told the team. "We decide. We don't need any help from anyone else. So now's not the time to go in the tank or be in a bad mood about what happened. Get back to work, man up to your mistakes."

"We still have a game to play Sunday, and we have a chance to whip some butt while we do it," Giants safety Antrel Rolle said. "It's either flight or fight. And we ain't running. Coach Coughlin can sit here and say he put the blame on himself, but I don't buy that [crap]. I don't buy it. We're all men out there on the field and we'll take responsibility for ourselves."

By the time Coughlin's media conference was done, even Coughlin started to loosen up. A little. He smirked when someone asked who he talks to after a tough loss and said, "Well, my wife ignores me and I don't have a dog."

So how does he personally move forward once, you know, he's done rocking catatonically in that darkened room and he has to deal with people again?

"Phony facial expressions, lousy jokes, that kind of stuff," Coughlin shrugged.

Johnette Howard is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com

Johnette Howard is an award-winning writer and author who previously worked for Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, and Newsday. She contributes general sports columns to ESPN.com and ESPNNewYork.com.

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