Tom Coughlin’s job is to coach the 2015 Giants, and that’s exactly what he intends to do.
“We have a full schedule to prepare for. That’s my responsibility,” he said as he approached the 16th and final game on that slate. “My responsibility will be fulfilled completely. There will be no distraction.”
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In deference to Coughlin’s desire to focus on the game and not his job security, this one story, at least, will attempt to stay within those boundaries.
So besides Coughlin’s future, what else are the Giants playing for against the Eagles at MetLife Stadium on Sunday?
Whoever wins the game will finish in second place in the NFC East; the loser will finish third. That’s not insignificant. There also is the matter of travel in 2016. Because the NFC East team that plays the Rams next season — i.e. finishes in the same place as they do — will do so in London, the losing team in Sunday’s Giants-Eagles game will be getting their passports ready and the winning team will play in Seattle.
There also is the matter of recent results against a rival. The Eagles have won five of their last seven games against the Giants and have won seven of their last eight trips up the New Jersey Turnpike to play at the Meadowlands (it’s a run that goes all the way back to Giants Stadium, after all).
There are personal accomplishments within reach. Eli Manning needs 277 passing yards to have the second-most in a single season in Giants history. Odell Beckham Jr. needs 141 receiving yards to break the team’s single-season record of 1,536 set by Victor Cruz in 2011. He also needs one touchdown reception to break a tie at 13 with Homer Jones (1967) for most in a season.
Beyond Coughlin, this could be the final home game for many Giants players. Prince Amukamara and Jason Pierre-Paul are the most significant free agents-to-be, but given the disappointment of this season, there is sure to be a significant roster turnover even if the head coach returns.
And while it may not mean a whole lot, the Giants would much rather finish 7-9 than 6-10. That, Coughlin pointed out, would “give us one more win than we had a year ago. Certainly not what we planned to be where we are, but it still is significant.”
Perhaps most importantly is the tone with which the Giants can head into another interminably long offseason.
“Neither one of us have the opportunity to continue playing after this, so whatever is left out on the field, that’s what you have to taste until next year,” running back Rashad Jennings said.
Eli Manning agreed. “Obviously you’re disappointed,” he said of the entirety of the season, “but you kind of have that last memory to be something to be proud of.”
That’s no guarantee for next season. The Giants won the final game of the previous season three times during this current run of four straight playoff-less campaigns. But it’s at least something.
“Let’s face it, our business is based on hope and things to think about for the future,” Coughlin said. “It’s a lot easier to spend the next six months if you have accomplished something at the end of the year in terms of a win in your last game, especially with the type of season we’ve had.”
That’s why Coughlin is directing his attention toward the contest. Hope may be lost for him, but the coach who has implored his team to “finish” all season is living the example, pushing through the distractions and disappointments to complete the schedule and his mission.
“We’re going to game-plan and we’re going to mentally be ready; we’re going to get our players ready to play,” he said. “We’re going to do everything in our power. Then the season ends and that’s what football is all about: What’s next?”
The answer to that question will have to be covered in another story.