It always ends in sports, and rarely does it come in smiles on the shoulders of players and teammates. It’s ending for Tom Coughlin, and there are no fist pumps or cheers. Just frowns and nausea. Because his 12 years of work shouldn’t boil down to just one disastrous decision. But it will because of what transpired Sunday at the Meadowlands for the Giants. A ten-point lead in the fourth quarter. Fourth down from inside the 5 yard line. Easy call.
General Coughlin has forever kicked the field goal in that spot. Put yourself up 13 points, force the wheezing Jets offense to score two touchdowns in the final eight minutes. Befriend the clock, trust your defense, win the game. But the 2015 Giants have been unable to do any of those three things, and the Jets wild comeback will be the game that puts a period on this era of Big Blue football. Going for it, and Eli’s interception on the goal line that flipped the momentum, will be precisely the moment it ended.
Exactly a year ago I wrote the end was near for Coughlin after a humiliation in Jacksonville. Giants fans had seen this movie before, but stability and loyalty trump all inside those walls, so the brass brought him back for another go-round. This one is just an ugly carbon copy. Too many times this season the sideline has botched late game management (Cowboys, Jets). The defense has been gutted at exactly the wrong time (Saints, Patriots, Falcons). The wins have evaporated and turned to dust.
And the sinking, sickening reality is that this late-game comedy has become the norm. Coughlin will surely live on in Giants history, a man who will be wildly applauded when he returns for the anniversaries the tradition-laced franchise so loves. But it’s a man who has painfully lost the ability to control a game.
Let’s also make this much clear: GM Jerry Reese’s roster-building is flawed, and he handed Coughlin holes at too many positions. Great linebacking is a franchise cornerstone, but Reese has been unable to draft and develop one in nearly a decade. The offensive line deteriorated until Reese was forced to desperately draft big guys like a run on batteries and milk before a Nor’easter. That historically great pass rush relies on a guy with a club hand who has only played half the season.
But Coughlin’s steering of the ship has also hit one too many ice bergs. Coughlin felt compelled to go for it because he couldn’t trust his defense. This, however, is expecting the worst and then manifesting it yourself. The Jets had done almost nothing all day. They’re not a quick-strike, big play outfit like the Patriots or Packers. The only thing that could’ve ignited them was a spark, a momentum shift, a spear of light. A stop on fourth down.
Sunday against the Jets (just like the previous Sunday at FedEx Field) could’ve saved the season. And because the Giants have pulled rabbits out of hats before, the inclination is always they’ll do it again. But the reality is they haven’t in a long time, and this will likely be 6 of the last 7 years missing the playoffs. The one year they made it in that span? A 9-7 campaign in ’11, where the Giants had to frantically win their final two games just to sneak in. Familiar feeling in the swamp.
This underscores the most damning problem of the Coughlin Era: never ending desperation. There’s always the elimination monster lurking just a week away, which eventually wears thin. How many seasons can come down to needing to “just win one game?” It’s been a perpetual storyline because Coughlin’s teams have routinely lost games they shouldn’t have, putting them in precarious positions. This year has been no different.
There’s been an alarming lethargy in so many of the Giants big games under Coughlin, spanning from playoff losses to the Panthers (’05) and Eagles (’08) over the years, the 0-6 start two seasons ago, to the zombie apocalypse effort they gave in Washington after a bye one week ago. Same old story in East Rutherford. Coughlin’s Giants give away games forcing them into must-win situations. This time – just like most of the last seven years – it will probably end before the playoffs.
The only reason there is still a speck of light poking through the keyhole is because of the stench of the NFC East landfill, and that blind hope that maybe they can snatch lightning, squeezing it into a bottle one more time. Coughlin has helped steer two brilliant playoff runs, is still the only man to out-coach Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl, and will be adored forever in Giants Land when the stink of these last four years has time to dissipate. But everything eventually ends in sports, and this one is over now. Sunday’s futile fourth down sealed it.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.