"I know this," Coughlin said. "The way we finished the  season, our locker room was exceptional. Our players were focused. They worked hard. They practiced hard. They asked no quarter, and that attitude prevails. I can't wait. I'm excited about that."
Five months later, after a 6-2 start dissipated with another second-half collapse that has the Giants teetering on the edge of elimination from playoff contention, Coughlin is at a loss to explain how it all happened.
After two straight blowout losses on the road, giving them five losses in the last seven games, the Giants need a win over the Eagles Sunday and losses by the Bears, Cowboys and Vikings to get in the tournament.
Moments after the Jets completed a preseason in which the first-team offense didn't score a touchdown, coach Rex Ryan told me in a corner of the visitors' locker room in Philadelphia that he felt better about this year's team than any of his previous ones. "When it's all said and done, I think this will be the best team I've had since I've been here," Ryan said. "That's how I feel about it."
And look at him now. Ryan's 6-9 team won't make the playoffs, he benched his franchise quarterback and he now is fending off reports that he'd consider quitting or would want to be fired because of all the problems this failed season has created.
The Jets opened the season with a 48-28 rout of the Bills. Now they'll close it against the same team with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the future.
Welcome to Gloomsday for New York football, where the promise of preseason expectations has collapsed under the weight of cold, cruel reality in December.
On a day when the Jets will finish a season filled with unrelenting controversy, the Giants will be hoping for a near-miracle to be in position to fulfill the hopes they once harbored of getting back to the playoffs to defend their title.
"The guys are looking forward to the game," Coughlin said. "They're looking forward to the opportunity that's been given to them. We need to play a very good football game. It's not about what the scenarios are or anything of that nature. It's about us taking our football team and playing as well as we can possibly play. Then we'll worry about everything else."
They'll worry about everything else only if they win. And even against an Eagles team finishing off a dreadful season, that's not a given. If the Giants play the way they did against Atlanta and Baltimore, there's no need to even watch the scoreboard to see how everyone else who figures in the NFC playoff race is doing.
Even with a win, there are important questions for the Giants moving ahead, especially if they don't get into the tournament.
What comes next?
I don't see a wholesale rebuilding job next season, although there will be some important changes. The Giants need a makeover at linebacker and need more depth on the offensive line, two areas that they'll likely concentrate on in free agency and/or the draft.
The biggest issue is what happens on the defensive line, where Osi Umenyiora doesn't expect to be back and Justin Tuck is a question mark. He's in the final year of his contract next season, and injury and ineffectiveness have slowed him the last two seasons.
All things considered, the Giants still have a core of capable players heading into the offseason, so it's no time to blow things up.
The Jets?That's quite another matter.
Ryan deserves to be back next season. But it won't be without change:
He needs a new offensive coordinator -- which would be his third in three years -- and he needs another quarterback or two to salvage the position. Perhaps the Jets will go after a veteran such as Miami's Matt Moore to compete for the job with Mark Sanchez and Greg McElroy; perhaps they'll draft another quarterback, possibly early in the first or second round.
Still too close to call on whether Mike Tannenbaum comes back as general manager. There's a chance owner Woody Johnson will stand pat here, although it wouldn't be a surprise to see the team bring in another personnel man. Former Jets scouting director Joey Clinkscales and Texans personnel director Mike Maccagnan are possibilities.
Compelling and complicated issues for both teams as they turn the page on a lost season. Unless, of course, there really is a miracle in store for the defending Super Bowl champion.