The last time one of Tom Coughlin's end-of-season meetings with his team wrapped up, the Giants boarded buses that took them to a parade down the Canyon of Heroes. On Monday, when he had the same meeting, there were no buses, no cheers, no ticker tape awaiting them. Just 31/2 months of thinking about what could have been until the players report back for their offseason training program on April 15.
"It's a different category for sure," Coughlin said of the disparity between the two get-togethers with similar agendas and yet vastly different emotions. "It's not pleasant. It's not pleasant at all. Because why? Because you expect so much more."
That will be the epitaph on a 2012 season that ended Sunday without a playoff berth.
"The bar is set very high here and we didn't get the job done," general manager Jerry Reese said. "Soup to nuts, we didn't get the job done . . . I wish I could say something clever to make it sound good, but we didn't get the job done."
Less than 11 months after standing alone at the pinnacle of the sport, the Giants found themselves among 20 teams on the outside of the postseason picture. They finished with the same record as they did last season, but a vastly different result.
During the summer, Eli Manning opened training camp preaching to his teammates and the media that 9-7 would not be good enough to get into the playoffs again. He was right.
"We don't get paid here for the Giants to go 9-7," Reese said. "We got away with that last year."
Even while the Giants were very much alive and in the chase for a defense of their title, there were games that presented bad omens. Among the regrets Coughlin listed yesterday were the opening-game loss to the Cowboys, the 19-17 loss on a missed field goal against the Eagles and the blowing of a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against the Steelers.
"Sometimes when you walk off the field having lost a game, your thoughts are 'Boy, I hope this one doesn't come back to haunt me or bite us in the butt in the long run,' " he said. "In reality, that's what happened."
That doesn't even take into account the Giants' two-week hiatus from playoff-caliber play against the Falcons and Ravens. Reese called the inconsistent play a "head-scratcher."
"We should have closed the division out a couple of weeks before we got to [Sunday's finale]," Reese said.
Coughlin noted that the Giants played "some of the finest games ever played here" in 2012. But for every gem there was a clunker.
"Why we couldn't do that consistently this year will be the big question on all of our minds," Justin Tuck said. "Hopefully we can find some answers as to why."
"When it was there, you could see it. You didn't have to question it. No one had to question it," Rolle said of the team's passion. "But there were also times where obviously we weren't playing Giants football."
Even with a sofa's view of the playoffs, the Giants believe that if they had gotten into the mix, they could've made a lot of noise.
"Obviously, this whole offseason, everybody is going to try to knock you down and tell you that you're in the same boat as teams that won two games," Tuck said. "We're not. We're not . . . I feel very confident in the fact that if we would have gotten into the playoffs, we could have made a run."
But they didn't. And so Monday's meeting, one of Coughlin's least favorites of any year, capped the disappointment.
"I don't like the exit meeting," Coughlin said. "I don't like it at all. I don't like saying goodbye. I don't like the unfulfilled."