JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Forget about what Tom Coughlin said during the week about Sunday's game at the place where his NFL head-coaching career began. Even if the Giants' coach insisted there were no feelings of nostalgia as he prepared to visit the area where he still has a home and where he plans to live once his coaching days are over, there surely were some pangs.
How could there not be, even for a man whose life revolves around maintaining a sense of discipline and not allowing distractions to take away from his focus?
Coughlin visited with his extended family the night before the game, having Thanksgiving dinner with his wife, children and grandchildren. And on game day at EverBank Stadium -- which was called Jacksonville Municipal Stadium when Coughlin got here in 1994 to kick off the Jaguars' existence -- he met with many of his former players here for alumni day festivities.
Tony Boselli. Mark Brunell. Keenan McCardell. Jimmy Smith. Fred Taylor. Nearly 50 others who helped Coughlin build the expansion Jaguars into playoff contenders almost two decades ago. They greeted their old coach warmly, even if they once bristled under his authoritarian rule.
So don't think for a minute that what happened with Coughlin's Giants didn't hurt the 68-year-old coach more deeply than he was letting on.
After entering the game with six straight losses that knocked his team out of playoff contention and put his future with the Giants in question, Coughlin presided over what arguably was the worst defeat in the second-longest losing streak in his run with the team.
After the Giants scored the game's first 21 points and led by 18 at halftime, Coughlin's team collapsed in mind-numbing fashion, dropping a 25-24 decision to a team that entered with a 1-10 record and was led by a rookie quarterback. It was Coughlin's team that looked more like the expansion team he coached here all those years ago.
And if there is a game that signals the end of his run as the Giants' coach, it could be this one.
It was even more damaging than the six straight losses that preceded it. At least there were extenuating circumstances that helped explain some of the misery that had begun after the Giants improved to 3-2 on Oct. 5. Those six games were against teams that now have a combined record of 48-24, and the Giants were beset by several significant injuries.
But to lose this way to a one-win team -- to look so good in going up 21-0 midway through the second quarter, only to give up two touchdowns while the ball was in your possession . . . to let rookie Blake Bortles shred your defense at the end, just like Tony Romo, Andrew Luck, Nick Foles and Russell Wilson . . . to not have won for 56 days . . . well, this might be the game that convinces Giants ownership that it is time for a change.
Afterward, Coughlin was beside himself with frustration.
"We could have knelt on the ball in the second half and had a better chance to win,'' he said. "A very disappointing, discouraging, all-of-the-above loss for us. Thought we prepared well, and nothing happens on game day. It's a long game. You have to play four quarters. We're playing two, maybe three sometimes.''
Coughlin insisted the return to Jacksonville didn't make the loss any more painful. "No, no. It doesn't make it any harder,'' he said. "It's a loss [in a game] that we feel we should have won. We've done this too many times. We just helped somebody beat us instead of forcing them to beat us. We helped them. You talk till you're blue in the face."
At 3-9 and with only four games left in the season, the Giants soon must decide if Coughlin will be back to continue a painful rebuilding process -- or whether it is time for a change after failing to reach the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, including the last three.
It is not an easy decision to make about a coach who has won two Super Bowl titles and might be headed for the Hall of Fame.
But what happened here did not help Coughlin's cause. And if he can't find a way to lead his team to some wins in the final month, the answer might become self-evident. It will be time for a change.