MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.
If this were just about any other year, the Giants would be playing out the string of meaningless games — at least as far as the playoffs are concerned — and Tom Coughlin’s fate already might be sealed.
Thank goodness for the NFC East. At least as far as this team is concerned.
With the Giants at 5-7 entering Monday night’s game against the Dolphins, the division title still was there for the taking — win or lose against Miami. Such is the pitiful state of a division that once was the crown jewel of the NFL. But with the Giants, Philadelphia and Washington all under .500 in the final month of the season, we could be seeing a third divisional winner with a losing record. Only the 2010 Seahawks and 2014 Panthers won their division titles despite finishing under .500.
Feel the power? Not quite.
Coughlin understands how this works, and he knows there are no good excuses or viable explanations for all that has gone wrong. And he knows his fate hangs in the balance, even if he chooses not to offer one scintilla of concern about his personal situation.
The coach is all about his team, not himself. And before Monday night’s game against the Dolphins, he spoke the truth in defining the terms for when — or if — things will turn around for the Giants.
“We’ll win when we deserve to win,” he said. “We haven’t done enough things to put us over the top. We have got to get back to work. We have four games to go. We’ve got to work extra hard as a coaching staff, and our players will work hard, and we’ve got to win a game and change this negativity and get going in the right direction.”
The Giants have been highly competitive all season and very well could be 10-2 had they not blown leads late in games. But the woulda-shoulda-coulda laments ring hollow, because the Giants just haven’t been good enough to win. As the coach says, they haven’t deserved to win.
And in a division that repeatedly offers second chances — and third and fourth chances — the Giants can only blame themselves if they fail to take advantage of the gifts that their fellow NFC East participants have offered.
Philly and Washington raised the stakes with clutch wins over the Bills and Bears, respectively, on Sunday, so the Giants headed into Monday night a half-game off a share of the divisional lead. Even a loss to Miami would have left them only a game behind. But with remaining games against the unbeaten Panthers next week, the Vikings on the road and the Eagles at home to finish off the season, the road ahead is treacherous.
“We’re all sick of losing, let’s face it,” Coughlin said. “We’ve had too many close games that went the wrong way at the end of the game. When the game is on the line, we have to step up and make plays.”
He added, “I just think we’re a team that is striving to put four quarters together. You have deserve to win. Maybe you’ll get a gift once in a while when somebody doesn’t do something, but by and large, you have to beat the other guy. You’ve got to own up to what it is. There’s no way around it.”
Coughlin’s other message this week: Tune out the noise and negativity.
“Take care of the things you can control, OK? Criticism comes with the territory. Win games, they’re pumping your butt up beyond what it should be most of the time. Lose games, you’re going to get blamed. And I always tell them this, ‘Send all the criticism right to me. I can handle it. You guys have to be about the business of performing, of doing extra, because that’s what we talk about this time of the year.’ ”
The coach has broad shoulders and he’s willing to take the pressure off his players. But unless those players start performing when it counts most, all the opportunities the NFC East keeps presenting them eventually will run out. So will Coughlin’s time as Giants coach.