As tough as it is for Tom Coughlin to get his team to win a football game, the Giants' 10th-year coach has an even more daunting challenge as he deals with a cataclysmic early-season meltdown: keeping his locker room from splitting apart.
We've seen plenty of examples of players from losing teams turning on one another and creating a toxic environment in the locker room, but so far, the Giants have remained unified.
But if the losing keeps up, it will become that much tougher for Coughlin to keep his players from bickering.
"Coach is doing the best job he can of keeping his composure and keeping this locker room together, keeping this team together," safety Antrel Rolle said. "That's the most important thing at this point, because when you're 0-6, a whole lot of things can turn on you. Players can turn on players. Coaches can turn on players. Players can turn on coaches. That's the one thing we haven't done in this locker room. That's the one thing we will never do in this locker room."
Apparently, however, not all the players are taking the losing as seriously as others. After Thursday night's 27-21 loss to the Bears, for instance, Eli Manning offered a deeply emotional mea culpa about his continued interceptions, his voice cracking with disappointment. But in a corner of the locker room, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive lineman Shaun Rogers could be seen laughing as they were getting dressed.
OK, so players don't always need to act funereal after a loss, but it seemed off-putting in light of the circumstances. And at least one defensive player who does take the losing to heart suggested Friday that there are varying degrees of caring among his teammates.
"I think some are [concerned], I think some don't care," cornerback Terrell Thomas said. "Some people can lose a game and go about their day very easily. Others can't sleep at night. I'm one of those guys."
So is Coughlin, who stayed at the team's training facility after the team returned to New Jersey. He began his news conference Friday by telling reporters that he was "as disappointed and upset about this loss as I have been about a loss in a long, long time." He lamented that his defense couldn't get a pass rush on Jay Cutler, that the Giants didn't take advantage of a strong running game and good special- teams work, and of course Manning's interceptions.
He also insisted that his team will stick together.
"We start out the day after [a loss], and it's not very pretty," he said. "Beyond disappointed, and everyone wants answers. But [the players] are committed to each other, and I think we'll remain that way. They know the only thing they have is each other. We have the support of one another. We have to stay close, stay the course, believe in each other, support one another, be advocates for each other. We have to do that."
And what about some not taking the losing as hard as others?
"If they're not, they're not smart enough to figure it out, OK?" Coughlin said. "I think there's a majority of the guys in the room that are very much aware. Sometimes we don't come in, we just stay here."
Coughlin has been doing a lot of that lately, spending most of his waking hours at the practice facility trying to figure out how to win a football game.
For most of his locker room, particularly the quarterback in the mystifying slump, there is a good-faith effort to try to salvage something out of this season.
"You don't know how it's going to turn out," Manning said. "Right now . . . the best-record team [in the NFC East] has two wins. We've got to stick together and just keep fighting and keep making improvements and see if we can get on a hot streak.''
As they try to turn things around, at least they remain mostly unified. So far, anyway.