For the last three weeks, the games played by the New York Giants have provided fodder for endless conversation:
Because in the win over St. Louis, they appeared to be feigning injuries to slow down a Rams drive.
Because after the win in Philadelphia, Michael Vick complained that officials weren't throwing flags for late hits on him by Giants rushers.
Because during the game-winning drive Sunday in Arizona, wide receiver Victor Cruz flopped and the ball came loose but officials ruled it was a voluntary dive with no fumble. A play later, Eli Manning threw the game-winning TD pass to Hakeem Nicks.
All reasonable topics for discussion.
But so is Tom Coughlin, the often (always?) overlooked coach who is a lot more than the grumpy old man he's portrayed to be by TV cameras.
So in a season when everything went wrong early, the Giants are 3-1, tied with the Redskins for first in the NFC East where the Eagles and Cowboys are the glamor. That's after their two best possession receivers defected in the offseason; and they began the year without four injured defensive starters and their first two draft picks.
Why have they won?
Because of Manning, who has picked up the family escutcheon from his injured brother and whose play has, in fact, been Peytonesque — his passer rating, 81.1 for his eight-year career, is 105.6, third in the NFL behind Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
But mostly because of Coughlin.
Coughlin is 65. He's in his 16th season as a head coach and his 136 wins are 21st all-time. He also has what every coach covets, a Super Bowl ring won four years ago by outcoaching Bill Belichick and keeping New England from the first 19-0 season. Like this year, that was one the Giants entered with relatively low expectations.
OK, we've been fixated on Detroit and Buffalo because they've been so far down and on the ups and downs of Tony Romo and Dallas and the downs of Vick and Philadelphia. The 3-1 Giants are just another team — this is a franchise that for the past 30 years has won three Super Bowls and contended almost every year so success is supposed to be a given. Last season, the team was said to have "collapsed'' because it lost a 21-point fourth-quarter lead to the Eagles yet it still finished 10-6, a tiebreaker out of the playoffs.
But this year almost surely would have gone south without Coughlin.
First, in the frantic free agency scramble after the lockout ended, the Giants let tight end Kevin Boss go to the Raiders and receiver Steve Smith to the Eagles, then lost Terrell Thomas, their best cornerback, plus two more corners; middle linebacker Jonathan Goff; end Osi Umenyiora; and rookies Prince Amukamara and Marvin Austin.
Fans? "We're looking at 4-12 if we're lucky,'' said an avid-fan friend. Another suggested they play for the No. 1 pick and Andrew Luck to replace the underappreciated Eli.
Coughlin? "Next man up.'' He doesn't cry, plays with what he has and is as hard on his best players as the rawest rookie — he was all over Manning after 30 turnovers last season. He has two sixth-round picks, Greg Jones and Jacquian Williams playing big minutes at linebacker, undrafted rookie Henry Hynoski at fullback and an unknown tight end, Jake Ballard, who played one game a year ago as an undrafted free agent.
So? Three straight wins after an opening loss in Washington. Good enough to put the Giants, with the equally-unheralded Redskins (Rex Grossman!) looking down and the two "teams'' — America's and Dream — in the division standings.
Yes, the Lions and Bills deserve to be network darlings.
Still, a little love for that grumpy old man the networks seem to think spends his time yelling at officials.