Giants players have 'upbeat meeting' after meltdown

Updated: November 27, 2006, 7:29 PM ET
Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With their season unraveling after an embarrassing fourth-quarter meltdown against Tennessee, the Giants held a players-only meeting Monday.

"Yes, this team can bounce back. Why can't we? Give me a reason why we can't. We have everything on the line. We are playing at home. We got the talent. We got the players. There is no reason why we can't, and we will. I am confident in that."
-- Shaun O'Hara

An attempt to regroup before their NFC East showdown with Dallas this weekend, the 15- to 20-minute meeting was described by center Shaun O'Hara as "a little extra time among friends." It took place after coach Tom Coughlin spoke to the team about having its heart cut out in a 24-21 loss in which the Titans scored all their points in the final 9:35.

"It was an upbeat meeting," said O'Hara, who refused to give specifics. "It was a good meeting. It was just what we needed."

About a half-dozen players spoke, linebacker Antonio Pierce said.

"If you were a rookie, you've never lost a game like this before," Pierce said. "But it wasn't geared for just the rookies. It was geared for veterans and everybody."

A number of players asked Coughlin for permission to talk among themselves and the coach obliged after the worst fourth-quarter collapse in the team's 86-year history. The loss was the third straight for New York (6-5), which dropped it a game behind the Cowboys (7-4) in the division.

"We are on the right track, as sick as we are about that game," O'Hara said. "We're all on the same page and that's the most important thing. We're not spread out."

And they aren't listening to speculation about Coughlin's job security with a year left on his contract, and about quarterback Eli Manning's confidence a day after his last-minute interception cost the Giants a game.

"I wear it heavy," Coughlin said of the stunning loss in which the Titans scored 10 points in the final 44 seconds. "It's always been that way. It's my responsibility. I have to find a way for us to win. When we don't, the brunt of the responsibility goes right here."

The players also have played a major part in the slide.

Manning has thrown two touchdowns and six interceptions in the losing streak, and lost a fumble along the way. His decision making has been shaky and the poise that seemed to be his trademark earlier in the season has evaporated.

Receiver Plaxico Burress didn't help Manning, quitting on a long fourth-quarter pass Sunday that Adam "Pacman" Jones intercepted to start the Titans' comeback with just under 13 minutes to play.

Jones had a good punt return to set up another score, and rookie defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka let Vince Young out of his grasp on a potential clinching fourth-down sack on the Titans' last TD drive. Kiwanuka said he was worried about getting a roughing penalty.

"I think we are disappointed, but I think we understand we are still in the hunt," Manning said. "That's all you can ask for. If you still are playing for something, we have a shot. This is a huge game. We're excited. We understand the circumstances that if we win we'll be in the lead in our division. This one hurts, but we have to bounce back."

There are many who wonder whether the Giants can bounce back, especially with six defensive starters -- defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan, linebackers Brandon Short and LaVar Arrington, and cornerbacks Corey Webster and Sam Madison -- all sidelined.

Arrington is out for the year, but Coughlin said Umenyiora and Short are expected to return to practice this week and that he will know more about Webster on Wednesday.

Strahan also is being upgraded to do individual drills, which probably means he will miss at least Sunday's game against Dallas.

O'Hara told Giants fans not to panic.

"Yes, this team can bounce back," he said. "Why can't we? Give me a reason why we can't. We have everything on the line. We are playing at home. We got the talent. We got the players. There is no reason why we can't, and we will. I am confident in that."

Bill Parcells and his Cowboys are one of the hottest teams in the league, having won three straight. They are 4-1 since Tony Romo replaced Drew Bledsoe at quarterback, with the only loss coming on a freaky finish in Washington after a last-minute field goal attempt was blocked.

"The big one is coming this week -- a huge one, the biggest," veteran tackle Bob Whitfield said. "It's bigger than all of them, bigger than the home opener. It will set the tone for December, when teams fall by the wayside."

If the Giants don't respond, it may be further evidence they started falling by the wayside in November, a month that began with them challenging the Bears for the best record in the conference.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press