Tom Coughlin is a very simple man with a straightforward style, as meat-and-potatoes a coach as you'll ever find. He comes up with easy-to-understand themes such as "Finish," "Talk is cheap, play the game" and "Build the bridge."
There was no catchy phrase for Sunday night's NFC East game against long-standing rival Philadelphia, but there was a clear-cut message: It will come down to the fourth quarter.
OK, many games in the parity-driven NFL come down to the fourth quarter, so a coach could say that every week. But for this one, Coughlin drove home his message by harking back to so many Giants-Eagles games that went down to the wire.
This one was no exception, as the Eagles held on to win, 19-17.
"Too little, not enough,'' Coughlin said. "I feel very badly for the guys in that [locker] room. They played hard. Wasn't always smart. It's always woulda, shoulda, coulda. We've got to get going.''
Thus continued one of pro football's great rivalries, which Coughlin has reveled in during his two stints with the Giants.
"There have been some unbelievable games between these teams, when I was an assistant here [1988-90] and it certainly has continued since I've been the head coach," he said. "It seems like each one of the teams in our division, there's a unique rivalry, and certainly with the Eagles, it's that way, for sure."
"These games are extremely close, they always are," Coughlin said. "They're fourth-quarter wins, one way or the other.''
Coughlin's message all week was about how critical it is to play hard to the end. His theme of last year's Super Bowl season (the mantra "Finish") was derived from a 38-31 loss to the Eagles late in the 2010 season, when the Giants blew a 31-10 fourth-quarter lead.
This time, there was more drama. After the Eagles led 7-3 at halftime, it got interesting, the way only Eagles-Giants can.
Philly went up 10-3 on Alex Henery's 20-yard field goal, but only after the Giants stopped McCoy on three straight runs from the 1. But the Giants tied it at 10 on Eli Manning's pinpoint 14-yard pass to Victor Cruz, as he threaded the ball perfectly between two defenders.
After the Eagles went ahead 16-10 on two more field goals by Henery, Manning drove the Giants in dramatic fashion for the go-ahead score, completing long passes to Ramses Barden and Domenik Hixon before finding backup tight end Bear Pascoe for a 6-yard pass to make it 17-16.
And then Philly retook the lead at 19-17 on yet another field goal, after yet another big-time Giants stop near the goal line.
Then Manning tried to produce more of his late-game magic. The Giants had to sweat out a fourth-down pass down the right sideline to Barden, who was interfered with. There was another pass interference on Barden (by Nnamdi Asomugha) on third down. But Barden was flagged for offensive interference to put the ball back to the Giants' 36 with 21 seconds left.
"We knew it was going to be a game that came down to the fourth quarter, and we had an opportunity,'' Manning said. "It was a poor throw by me . It put us further back, and we fell a little short. It was close, but we didn't do enough.''