If 0-3 Giants don't win Sunday, forget about playoffs

Head coach Tom Coughlin of the New York

Head coach Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants reacts to a call. (Nov. 25, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Bob Glauber

Bob Glauber

Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He

bio | email | twitter

It is a measure of just how desperate the situation has become that this question should even come up before October: Is the Giants' season on the line Sunday against the Chiefs?

And in a league where dramatic twists and turns are the rule, not the exception, the fact we're even asking shows what can happen when a team that should be a playoff contender suddenly faces an uphill climb of Sisyphean proportions.

Coach Tom Coughlin, who has extricated his team from plenty of late-season quagmires, said it hasn't gotten to that point yet.

When I asked Coughlin Wednesday whether the season will be on the line in Kansas City, he replied: "No. It's a long season. We've played three games and we have a lot of games to go. Certainly we want to win, that's our entire objective. Are we standing on the edge of the cliff? I don't look at it that way. I see a lot of football to be played.''

Yes, there is a lot of football left -- 12 games after Sunday. But the Giants already are fighting history as they try to reclaim some semblance of respect after a horrendous start, the worst since Coughlin took over as coach in 2004. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only five teams that started 0-3 made the playoffs. Since the league went to its current playoff format in 1990, only three did it.

And only one team since the merger-- the 1992 Chargers -- started 0-4 and made the playoffs, going 11-1 thereafter.

Sorry, coach. The season really is on the line here. And for all Coughlin wants to avoid talk of a must-win situation, this is absolutely a must-win situation. If it's not already too late. And realistically, it probably is too late. Even in a division where three of the four teams have a losing record.

Consider: No 0-3 team has made the playoffs since the 1998 Bills. They're joined by the 1995 Lions, 1992 Chargers, 1982 Bucs (when 16 teams made it during a strike-shortened, nine-game season) and 1981 Jets as the only teams to start 0-3 and get into the tournament.

But if the Giants are going to put themselves in position to turn around the season, it has to start with a win against a resurgent Chiefs team that's 3-0 and playing error-free football. Coughlin pointed out the salient stat, saying the biggest difference between last year's 2-14 Chiefs and this year's team was simple: turnovers. Last year, there were 37. This year? None.

A must win in adverse circumstances? No question, regardless of how many games are left. Even though the Giants would be mathematically in the race if they lost, realistically they'd be done. And if Coughlin isn't saying it, some of his players are.

"Definitely a must win,'' Hakeem Nicks said. "Hands down. It's a time where we need to come together as a team, which I think we're doing. We're going to get everything turned around, and everything will be fine.''

Nicks said he does feel a vibe inside the locker room that tells him there at least will be a chance moving forward. "If you're not a part of it, you can't explain it,'' he said. "It's just something you feel as a player. You'll be able to see it.''

Different from last week, when the Giants also expressed a sense of urgency before a 38-0 loss to the Panthers, the worst defeat of the Coughlin era?

"Definitely a different feeling,'' Nicks said. "Backs against the wall. You know how it is with our backs against the wall. Obviously, it's a start none of us intended, but you know what? We're in it. We did it to ourselves. You've got to be a man about it and come out fighting.''

Eli Manning agreed it's a must-win situation, although not because of the dire circumstances.

"I go into every game feeling it's a must win,'' he said. "I've never gone into a week saying, 'All right, it's OK if we lose.' We're fighting. We're going to compete and try to find a way to win.''

Has to happen now. If it isn't already too late.