Tom Coughlin is in his sixth season as New York Giants head coach. One of the reasons the Giants have been so successful during that time -- and maybe the primary reason Coughlin is still here -- has been his ability to handle crisis.
- It began back in 2004 when he was handed a completely broken team that had fallen apart under Jim Fassel. By his second season, TC had the Giants back in the playoffs and had the franchise pointed back on the right path.
- There was his willingness, with his season and maybe his job on the line in 2006, to sack play-caller John Hufnagel for the final regular-season game. Maybe it was belated, but it was still bold.
- There was his battle for control of the locker room, and to create an atmosphere where players cared more about winning than themselves. That took until Tiki Barber retired and Michael Strahan finally decided to get on board, but it did happen.
- There was, of course, 2007. The Super Bowl year. Remember how badly the Giants started, 0-2 and looking awful? Not qualifying for the playoffs until the 15th game of the season? TC managed his team through that sometimes rocky regular season, and we ended up with a magical run no one expected.
- Last season, of course, there was the Plaxico Burress fiasco. No, the Giants did not finish the season well. Coughlin did, however, maintain his grip on the team and not allow Burress to fracture the locker room.
Now the question is, can Coughlin do it again?
Make no mistake, this is a team in crisis. We have seen so many uncharacteristic things the past few weeks -- turnovers, atrocious defense, special teams mistakes -- it's hard to believe they can all be made to vanish quickly.
Yet, that is Coughlin's challenge because even he has admitted that Sunday is a 'one game season" for the Giants. Win it, they will be 6-3 and can feel OK about themselves heading into the bye. Lose it, the season could be headed down the drain.
Here is my question about those uncharacteristic things we have seen the past few weeks. Defensively, especially, is it just a matter of the Giants not having enough talent?
Or, have the players begun not to hear the things Coughlin and his coaches are preaching? Even terrific coaches have season where they simply don't get their message across to players.
TC has turned to his veteran players this week and put the onus on them.
"Leaders are lifters. What has to happen when a team does fight their way out of a problem, your best players have to show the way. They are the ones that show the way. The guys that are in the role of a foot soldier, they will play and they will work their tails off. But what ultimately shows is when the guys that are recognized as your quality football players – your better football players – they have to play themselves into a position where they are showing the way," Coughlin said.
So far, so good. Judging from the comments of a couple of those leaders they are accepting the challenge Coughlin has laid at their feet.
Here is Eli Manning, the leader on offense, addressing Coughlin's remarks.
"You always expect your leaders and the guys who expect to play well to go out there and do their job and play at a high level. That level motivates the other guys and gets everybody going. We have to do our job. Each individual has to do their job," Manning said. "I think the message is clear. I think we know what we’ve got to do and what’s at stake, how important this game is. We’ve got to turn this thing around and start playing better football. The message is clear, everybody knows it and now it’s a matter of just going out there and doing it."
Here is Antonio Pierce, the quarterback of the defense, discussing his unit.
"I’ve probably the biggest culprit of everything," Pierce said after Wednesday's practice. "If I’m the guy they call the leader of the defense or the captain of the defense, which I am, I need to do a better job. And I plan on doing it this week."
What he likely means is that, in addition to his physical mistakes, he also hasn't done a good enough job of keeping the players focused throughout the course of the game because, when asked what's happened to this defense lately, Pierce replied, "You always hear coaches say to a corner, 'Forget the last play and move on.' Well, I think we've got to do a better job of doing that. Sometimes, we're still trying to figure out what happened to us in the first quarter or the first play and it's in the fourth quarter and we're getting our butts whupped."
Like coach Tom Coughlin, Pierce indicated the recovery will start with the team's leaders.
"Our star players, the guys that are considered stars, need to play like stars," Pierce said. "The guys that are solid and contribute need to contribute more. Everybody needs to do a little bit more right now. Obviously, what we’re doing is not working.
"It has nothing to do with Xs and Os. Sometimes it does, but for the most part sometimes you have to go above Xs and Os and just play a little harder, do a little extra things, run to the ball more, have energy, show some kind of spirit that you want to really enjoy playing this game and be passionate about the game because it passes you by really quick and we don’t want to see our season pass us by."
So, it would seem that the Giants' leadership is still on the same page with its head coach. The question now is whether or not they can turn those words into actions.
If they can, Coughlin will have rescued another season that appears to be on the brink.