Commentary

Win or lose, Giants face uncertainty

A 10-6 record might not be enough to make the playoffs or save Tom Coughlin's job

Updated: January 2, 2011, 10:31 AM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In a perfect world, Barry Cofield's New York Giants will beat the Washington Redskins, win their 10th game of the season and make the playoffs with a Chicago Bears victory on Sunday, and both he and coach Tom Coughlin will receive new deals after the season is over.

"But you don't always get that fairy-tale ending," Cofield said.

The Giants have no idea what will happen Sunday, when the fate of many could be decided with a win or loss. A victory over the Redskins would give the Giants and Coughlin a 10-win season, nothing to be ashamed about.

Couple that with a Bears win over the Packers, and the Giants will be back in the postseason.

However, the nightmare scenario is a second straight season without the playoffs. A loss to the Redskins would ensure that, and could send the Giants into an offseason of change and uncertainty.

A loss to the Redskins -- a team the Giants have beaten nine of the past 11 times, including a 31-7 rout earlier this month -- would only ramp up speculation about Coughlin's job status, quicker than DeSean Jackson can return a Matt Dodge punt to the end zone.

After last season's 8-8 debacle, which had owner John Mara fuming, it's safe to say some jobs will be on the line Sunday.

Several Giants came to Coughlin's defense this week, doing whatever they could to put the target on their chests as opposed to that of their 64-year-old coach.

"In the NFL, there is always change," center Shaun O'Hara said. "But I get extremely annoyed and disgusted when I read the stuff and hear the things that are being said about our coach. I take that stuff personally, along with the other guys in this locker room. Coach Coughlin does not deserve to be treated that way. There isn't a better and more prepared coach out there than Tom."

"It irks me to no end when you hear people that even want to bring up discussion," O'Hara continued. "There is none of that thought even going through anybody's mind in here."

Coughlin has had only one losing season in his seven here -- the Giants went 6-10 in 2004. Since that first season with the Giants, Coughlin has averaged 10 wins a year. And he led the Giants to one of the greatest Super Bowl victories of all time in February 2008 against the New England Patriots.

But as Janet Jackson famously said, what have you done for me lately? Critics are consumed with the Giants' late-season swoons the past three seasons, starting in 2008 when the Giants opened 11-1 but finished 12-4 and lost in the playoffs to the Eagles after the Plaxico Burress debacle.

Then there was the 5-0 start last season before limping to the 8-8 finish that angered Mara and put many in the organization on red alert.

Now the Giants are trying to avoid another stinging collapse. Just two weeks ago, the Giants were 9-4 and eight minutes from their best and most convincing victory of the season, over the Eagles.

They hope not to finish this season on a three-game slide and out of the playoffs again.

"It would be an embarrassment on the players' part," cornerback Terrell Thomas said of finishing on a losing streak. "The organization did a great job of putting players in a position to make us a better team this year, and obviously it showed. Sometimes we are the best team in the NFL and sometimes we are the worst."

The Giants have been a streaky team, as their six losses have come in pairs.

At its best, the Giants' offense has been ranked in the top five in the league for 10 of the past 11 weeks. Defensively, the Giants were ranked third or higher for 11 straight weeks until last week.

But the Giants have beaten themselves too many times with penalties (see the loss to Tennessee in Week 3), late defensive breakdowns (see LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick) and stomach-churning turnovers (see Eli Manning's interceptions and Ahmad Bradshaw's fumbles).

Despite the inconsistency, the Giants say they can finish the season on a positive note even if they don't make the playoffs. A victory would allow them to go into the offseason holding their heads up, unlike last season.

And it might hush some of the catcalls for Coughlin's job.

"Going into the offseason losing and with all the question marks, that is a terrible feeling," Cofield said. "We have heard it before; after my rookie year [2006], there was a lot of clamoring about whether [Coughlin] would be back. And he turned around and won a Super Bowl. It is not uncharted territory for us."

"At the same time, we don't control any of that," Cofield added. "Whatever ramification may be of this last game, we know that winning, if not cures all, it helps everything. It will help everyone have a better taste in their mouth and it is definitely better than the alternative."

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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