Tom Coughlin shows he still believes

Tom Coughlin watches the pregame warmups before the

Tom Coughlin watches the pregame warmups before the start of the game against the Detroit Lions. (Dec. 22, 2013) (Credit: Getty)

Nothing that happened here Sunday could or should alter the larger narrative of the Giants' season, including that of their head coach, who along with everyone else simply wasn't good enough in 2013.

But even if the game didn't count for much in the standings, it did count as a reminder to everyone that Tom Coughlin still knows what he is doing, still knows how to send a message, still belongs on the job.

The defining moment came in overtime of an appropriately sloppy contest between two of the sloppiest offenses in the NFL.

The Giants faced a fourth-and-7 at the Lions' 42-yard line. Options: Punt, attempt a 60-yard field goal or go for it.

The latter two alternatives risked handing Detroit the ball in excellent field position, needing only a field goal to win.

As Coughlin weighed the decision, Eli Manning began uncharacteristically gesturing and yelling toward the sideline.

"I either wanted to go for it or kick and go for the win,'' he said later. "I didn't want to punt it there. Let's win this thing. Go for it. Be aggressive.''

Manning could have saved his breath. Coughlin already had opted to go for it.

"I picked him up right after we made the decision,'' Coughlin said. "He was standing there and didn't want to come off the field. I'd say that's as close to lobbying as he gets.''

Thus did a coach who called his offense "pathetic'' the previous week -- and then watched it produce five consecutive three-and-outs and two turnovers in the second half and overtime Sunday -- show faith at an improbable moment.

"It definitely means something,'' receiver Hakeem Nicks said. "Coach Coughlin believed in us. I never had a doubt that he did believe in us.''

Said Manning: "He has confidence in us in those situations. We're playing to win the game and trying to leave it all out there.''

It might be useful at this point to mention that the gamble paid off, with Manning finding Jerrel Jernigan for a 15-yard gain on a sliding catch that Manning was worried might be reviewed. He rushed to get the next play off to make sure it would not be.

The completion set up Josh Brown's game-winning 45-yard field goal in a 23-20 victory that eliminated the Lions from playoff contention.

What prompted Coughlin's decision? "We're deep into overtime,'' he said. "Guys have played a lot of plays. Let's see if we can make a play to put ourselves in a position to end the game.''

If it hadn't worked, the Lions probably would have won and staved off elimination for another week, and I would have written a different column. But that's not what happened.

Might Coughlin have been more conservative had the Giants still been in contention? Probably not. Despite his seemingly rigid personality and advanced age, he always has been willing to take a risk.

Fans and journalists following the Lions noted the contrast with Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, who at the end of regulation time faced a torrent of boos for calling a run with 23 seconds remaining, the ball at the Lions' 25 and two timeouts left.

Coughlin's move paid off and rewarded a beleaguered, injury-riddled team that needed something to feel good about.

"They've taken a lot of shots this year and quite frankly have earned the criticism; I don't think there's any doubt about that,'' Coughlin said. "But we've been able to stay focused and touch on some real deep values that get overlooked when people are telling you that you have nothing to play for.

"You have everything in the world to play for. I think the way they played tonight was a good demonstration of that.''

The same could be said of the way the coach coached.

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