As the players quietly dressed and equipment managers cleaned up the detritus of the locker room, Giants president John Mara stood in a corner and stared silently into the room, scanning the scene after his team's latest failure.
This was a few minutes after a humiliating 35-14 loss to the Lions at Ford Field on Monday night, a nationally televised debacle that cast a spotlight on all the problem areas the Giants fretted over during the summer: Eli Manning's sluggish adaptation to new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's West Coast system, spotty play by an offensive line and brutal play on defense.
Mara has seen this locker room before, whether it was during last year's 0-6 start or during the miserable seasons he endured growing up the son of Wellington Mara during the lost years of the 1960s and '70s. And if you've ever been around the Giants' 59-year-old president, you know that he was seething inside. So much so that, as a reporter approached, he ducked into a side room.
This was not the time for words, lest Mara say something in disgust he might come to regret. But make no mistake. If he sees many more of these games, he will not sit idly by. He will make changes. He believes patience is a cornerstone of stability for his franchise, which has been one of the league's most successful with four Super Bowl titles. But he also knows that inaction in the face of a need for change is a recipe for a return to an era of painful memories.
Mara knows there are decisions to be made. He knows his coach has not been to the playoffs in the two years since winning a second Super Bowl. He knows that Tom Coughlin is giving every fiber of his being to make this right, and that Manning cannot be counted out, given his history of escapes during his two Super Bowl MVP performances.
But Mara also knows that you have to do your best as an owner to get ahead of the situation and not have your team collapse into the abyss. Mara knows how his father remained loyal to coach Jim Lee Howell while seeing coordinators Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry go on to Hall of Fame careers elsewhere.
The subsequent decline of the franchise framed Mara's childhood; his friends teased him relentlessly, to the point at which he would ask his father if he had to go to school on a Monday after a loss. It was the pain of those memories that eventually stoked Mara's competitive fires as an adult, and he repeatedly has vowed that he will do everything humanly possible to avoid putting out an inferior product.
As he stared inside the visitors' locker room, he saw a group of players who were indeed inferior on this night. And though Mara knows that an NFL season never can be defined by what happens in one game, he has to wonder whether he is seeing the decline of his team. A year after witnessing the Giants' first 0-6 start since the 0-9 debacle of 1976, Mara knows that anything even remotely approaching what happened last season means he will need to intercede and make sweeping changes.
He remains deeply loyal to Coughlin and he has high regard for general manager Jerry Reese. But Mara remains more loyal to himself and to a fan base that will not settle for mediocrity . . . or worse.
Mara made the mistake last year of saying publicly he thought he had one of his best teams ever, only to see that team essentially end the season after just six weeks. The Giants won seven of their last 10 games, but only a dramatically improved team this year would do.
On Monday night, Mara saw no indication of a turnaround. Instead, he saw more evidence that the problems that afflicted the Giants last year have not gone away, or may have even grown worse. If that continues much longer, then the Giants' steward will be forced to act.