If you didn’t know any better, you’d have thought the Giants had just been eliminated from playoff contention, that their season had effectively ended and that the end of an era — the Tom Coughlin era — had arrived.
The players spoke barely above a whisper after Sunday’s 23-20 overtime loss to the Jets, easily the most disturbing of a series of close defeats for this 5-7 team. Eli Manning seemed as disappointed and muted as he’s ever been after a game. Coughlin admitted he can’t come up with many good answers for the continued malaise.
And even with four games to go, and even though the Giants still are within reach of the NFC East title despite their poor record, you got the sense that this was it — that these players don’t have it within them to make a run at a division championship that seemed within their grasp only a week earlier in a potential swing game at Washington.
“Difficult game to even bring your team up after the game,” Coughlin said. “Didn’t finish, had opportunities. There was a lot of disappointment, obviously.”
Coughlin himself will be at the center of controversy for his decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Jets’ 4 midway through the fourth quarter. The Giants led 20-10 and could have opted for the easy field goal to make it a 13-point lead. But Manning’s short pass for Rueben Randle was intercepted by safety Rontez Miles, and the Giants came away with nothing.
The Jets drove for a field goal and then the tying touchdown against the Giants’ hideously ineffective defense to force overtime. Then the Jets drove for an overtime field goal that held up after kicker Josh Brown’s first miss of the season, from 48 yards.
It was an easy second-guess of Coughlin’s decision not to go for the field goal earlier, but in that situation, there was nothing wrong with being aggressive. He was coaching to win the game — you go up 17 points with 8:42 to play and it’s virtually over. Even if the Giants make the field goal, the Jets still are only two scores behind, and they would have gone for a touchdown instead of a field goal on their next-to-last drive. Against that defense, which has flopped in the second half all season, almost no lead is safe.
Which is one reason Coughlin was willing to gamble. He’s still ahead by two scores whether they make the field goal or not, and creating a chance to go up by three scores was perfectly logical for a two-time Super Bowl winner.
Blame Manning all you want, but the real culprit on the interception was Randle, who just gave up on the route and let the ball go right into Miles’ hands. Randle has been wholly unreliable too often during his nearly four seasons with the Giants, and this was yet another example. That one’s on him, even if Coughlin and Manning were unwilling to publicly assign blame.
The Giants were left in disarray, and even though they are mathematically still in the thick of the race, only an unexpected turnaround can save them — and their coach.
If the losing continues, Coughlin likely will be at the end of a mostly excellent 12-season run with the Giants. He probably would walk away if it became obvious that a change is in the offing, but John Mara also might consider some front-office moves because of the deteriorating state of his roster. Whether that includes general manager Jerry Reese remains to be seen, although the Giants haven’t changed the coach and general manager at the same time since 1978.
Either way, sweeping moves are inevitable if the losing doesn’t stop. And based on what we’ve seen, a turnaround doesn’t seem possible.