Tom Coughlin will not treat one defeat as inordinately significant, particularly when it comes attached with insinuations he considers baseless.
On a conference call Monday, the Giants’ coach dissected the team’s 27-29 defeat yesterday in San Francisco. He conceded there were defensive lapses, the team was hurt by settling for field goals in the green zone and, after a week of preparation, should have been ready for David Akers’ successful onside kick.
But he sharply disagrees with the premise that one road loss to an 8-1 team is a sign the Giants are in for a bumpy ride as they navigate the second half of their schedule.
“You have to take each year one at a time,” Coughlin said. “You have to take each game one at a time. This is a game against a team that was 7-1 in the NFC. It’s not that we played poorly. It’s not that we ‘da, da, da, da.’ We didn’t win the game. I don’t feel that we should ever give up 27 (points) and I’m certainly not satisfied with (scoring) 20 points. But as a far as analyzing why and what, we didn’t play well enough to win. That’s it. Does it have anything to do with the second half (of the season)? No. It has to do with the ninth game of the year, which I felt we had a great chance to win. With the ball on the 10-yard line with a minute to play, I felt very good about it. It’s been the same scenario that we’ve won game after game with. So here we are again and this time it didn’t happen.”
The Giants’ second-half record has become a popular subject for football writers and analysts to scrutinize. The team has finished .500 or better over its final eight games in three of the last four seasons. The players and coaches, who always focus on the present, have grown weary of being told they don’t play well in the late months of the season.
“That’s what a lot of people say about us,” safety Kenny Phillips said. “We know what type of guys we have in our locker room. We believe in each other. I think we’re getting better. We continue to get better each week. Yeah, we just lost this game. But I think we had a lot of positive things we can take from it and we continue to build on it.
“We haven’t thought about it in our locker room. We feel like this is a totally different team. We’re at a totally different place mentally than we were a year ago. I think we’re more mature.”
A reporter asked Chris Snee on his conference call about “bad second halves.”
“We’re not analyzing previous years,” Snee said. “As far as I can remember … we’ve had a good year or two and we did win the Super Bowl. I think that’s finishing strong. They’re different teams. We’re not worried about the second half, like everyone else is. As boring as it is, we’re just worried about Philadelphia this week (the Giants host the Eagles Sunday night) and we’re not even looking ahead.”
This year presents an exceptional second-half challenge. The Giants – 6-3 and in first place in the NFC East - just traveled across the country and narrowly lost to the team with the NFL’s second-best record. This week, they face the Eagles, NFC East rivals trying to salvage their season. That is followed by a Monday night game at NFC South leader New Orleans, a home game against undefeated Green Bay and then a trip to Dallas to face their closest pursuers in the division (they face the Cowboys twice in the last four weeks).
“Knowing the opponents we have coming up, I think we’re ready for this stretch,” said Phillips. “You can tell by the morale in the locker room. Just the way we handled this loss. I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
“You focus each and every week on your opponent,” guard David Diehl said yesterday in the postgame locker room. “We’ve all learned from the past. You have to take care of your own business. You can’t rely on other guys and other teams to help you out. The only way to take care of business is one game at a time. This was a tough loss against a good football team, but I know we’re going to bounce back from it.”
The Giants did a lot of good things in San Francisco. They shut down the 49ers’ powerful run game, holding Frank Gore to zero yards on six carries before the Niners’ top back left with an ankle injury. They kept dangerous return specialist Ted Ginn, Jr. in check. And, after San Francisco scored two touchdowns in 61 seconds, they rebounded from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter to get within 10 yards of the tying touchdown in the game’s final minute. But Eli Manning’s fourth-down pass to Victor Cruz was batted down by defensive end Justin Smith to extinguish the Giants’ final hope.
But any progress the Giants made was overshadowed by the day’s most salient point – the Giants lost, ending their three-game winning streak.
“We did some positive things, but there are no moral victories here,” Snee said. “We felt like we left something out there on the field and we left a game out in San Fran that we felt we should have had. We’re beyond playing a team close and losing. That’s not the mentality we have around here.”
*As a member of the Eagles last season, Akers succeeded on a surprise onside kick against the Giants. Coughlin said the Giants prepared for the possibility he would try again, but the execution wasn’t as good as it needed to be.
“(Akers) is exceptional at it, Coughlin said. “What is he – nine of 19 in his career with surprise onsides? You talk all week about it. You do the best you can with that. We let our guard down just a little bit, didn’t attack the ball and that was the consequence. So I take responsibility for that. It’s a very difficult thing. There’s nothing different about his approach to the ball. There’s no substitution pattern.
“It’s a little bit of a two-edged sword. You have to, on the one hand, be prepared to defend against that and then the other hand you’re responsible for being downfield making a block that helps us with a return. He’s very good at it. I make no excuse for it. I’ll take the responsibility for it, again. We talked about it all week long. We talked about how impressive he is. We showed (the players) everything about his approach and so on and so-forth, but we obviously let our guard down a little bit and they got it.”
*Coughlin said linebacker Michael Boley (hamstring) and cornerback Aaron Ross (quad contusion) are day-to-day. Neither player stepped on the field in the second half yesterday.
After the game, defensive captain Justin Tuck said Boley is the player the unit can least afford to lose. Coughlin did not endorse that thinking.
“Everybody is important,” he said. “I don’t agree with the statement, necessarily. Michael’s very important to us. He’s our middle backer. He communicates. He’s played very, very well. We want to get him back as fast as we possibly can. That’s our goal, to get him healthy again so he can come back on the field and play the way he’s capable of playing and that’s the whole purpose of this thing. It’s not about any one individual, it’s about a team. Someone now is going to have to step up, if he can’t go, and perform the duties that he had and try to help us win a game.”
Rookie Spencer Paysinger stepped in for Boley, while Michael Coe replaced Ross.
*Leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw has missed the last two games with a foot injury. Coughlin was asked about the possibility of Bradshaw returning for the Eagles game.
“We’ll see,” Coughlin said. “There is no sense speculating. He’s going to have to go out and practice and he’s certainly had a couple of good, solid weeks of rest and hopefully he’ll be able to do some things. Probably won’t know until we get him out there.”
*Rookie linebacker Greg Jones said he should have covered tight end Vernon Jordan on the tight end’s 31-yard touchdown reception.
“That’s the way it should have been, yes,” Coughlin said.
*Regarding the final play, when Manning might have been able to throw to Jake Ballard if the Giants’ tight end wasn’t being mugged by linebacker Patrick Willis, Coughlin said, “I think that it’s safe to say that that was defensive holding.”