When the calendar turns to November and the New York Giants lose football games, like they did Sunday at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the talk inevitably turns to the team's propensity under Tom Coughlin for struggling in the second half of the regular season.
You know the talk is coming -- in fact, we have already discussed it somewhat. Giants' players know it is coming. Tom Coughlin hates hearing about it, but he has to know -- and understand -- why it is coming.
The Giants have a forgettable November history, 13-19 now under Coughlin. Five of those November victories came in 2008, when they followed up with a 1-3 December. So, take away 2008 and the Giants 8-19 in those other seven Novembers.
So, yes, when the Giants lose their first game in November -- especially squandering a 14-point lead at home in the fourth quarter -- the ugly questions will again come to the forefront.
Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN New York today addressed the question of what the 2012 New York Giants are. He asked:
Are they the team that dominated San Francisco and Carolina on the road? Are they the team that starts off slow and needs fourth-quarter comebacks, like they did against Tampa Bay and Washington? Or are they the team that struggles when defenses take away Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks from Eli Manning and has difficulty scoring touchdowns in the red zone?
I have a few questions of my own.
Are the Giants a team with a championship caliber defense? Are they a team with a "soft" defense that can't defend the run? Are they a team that can run the football or a team that has to rely solely on Manning's arm? Are they a team with play-making kick return and coverage units, or a team that is just glad to make a tackle somehow?
The truth about the 2012 Giants thus far is that they have been all of these things at one time or another. They really are the 'Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' team of the NFL. So, we really have no idea what this team will ultimately be.
Here is Justin Tuck talking to Youngmisuk about the 2012 version of the Giants:
"This team kind of lacks the consistency I think we're capable of. We've gotten away with it in certain games, and other games it's come and bit us," Tuck said.
"There's one thing I know about this team. When we're backed in a corner, we're probably the most ferocious team to come out of that corner. Right now, we're not backed in a corner and I'm hoping and praying it doesn't have to get to that point. I'm hoping and praying we see that sense of urgency now."
That is why this Sunday's game on the road vs. the Cincinnati Bengals is critical for the Giants. At 6-3 the Giants are in total control of the NFC East with the imploding Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles both at 3-5, and the Washington Redskins at 3-6.
A win puts the Giants at 7-3 heading into the bye instead of 6-4 and having to spend two weeks answering "collapse" questions.
I would also argue that it is important for the Giants to earn an impressive victory, not a 'play lousy for three quarters and rescue the game with a fourth-quarter flurry' kind of victory that raises more questions than it answers.
Yes, the Giants had won four straight before losing to the Steelers. In those four victories, though, the 26-3 thumping of the San Francisco 49ers is the only game in which you can truthfully say the Giants played well. They did enough to win those other games -- or maybe the opposition did enough to lose them if you choose to look at it that way.
As Tuck indicated, the Giants are nowhere near being backed into the corner they love to fight their way out of at this point. The Giants hope to answer the question of what type of team they really are long before allowing the season to get to that point.