By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 3, 2006
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Oct. 2 -- Tom Coughlin is not really the relaxing sort, anyway. But even if he were, the coach of the New York Giants would not have found his team's bye week very soothing, not with the defending NFC East champion in crisis mode.
The Giants returned to work Monday after a three-day break. They had been given Friday through Sunday off after spending most of last week in practices and meetings searching for answers on the heels of an embarrassing loss in Seattle -- one in which they trailed 35-0 and 42-3 before a cosmetic rally reduced the final margin to 42-30 -- that dropped them to 1-2. Tight end Jeremy Shockey criticized the Giants' coaching staff immediately after the game, and the New York tabloids had more than enough fodder to declare in blaring headlines that the team was on the precipice of anarchy and collapse.
But in a nearly empty locker room at Giants Stadium late Monday morning, a few players said they'd managed to reenergize over the weekend and they were ready to begin trying to rebuild their season with a game at home Sunday against the Washington Redskins.
"You get better, man, plain and simple," defensive end Michael Strahan said. "You don't panic. You don't get too upset when you lose. You don't get overjoyed when you win. We haven't exactly played the way we want to play. But at the same time, we know we're better than that and, at some point, we've just got to own up to it. We're at that point we need to own up to it."
Said linebacker Antonio Pierce: "We have to come in here focused. I think the three days off did a lot of people some good. Guys were happy to be back to work today, so I think we'll have a good week of practice, and we'll see what happens when we play Washington."
A simple glance at the Giants' schedule before the season would have suggested to anyone that a quick start was unlikely. Their losses have come to the Indianapolis Colts and the Seahawks, two of the best teams in the league, sandwiched around a Week 2 triumph in Philadelphia in which the Giants trailed 24-7 in the fourth quarter before winning in overtime.
But the schedule doesn't get much easier, with nondivision games against the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers still to come. That is the plight of a team coming off a division-winning season in the NFL. The Giants know they'll have to raise their level of play considerably to even be in playoff contention.
"You look at the schedule," Pierce said. "You're never going to say, 'We're going to lose to this team but beat this team.' But you look at it like, 'We're going to have to be on our P's and Q's for every game.' And these first three games, I don't think we've been on our P's and Q's."
Coughlin met with Shockey after Shockey told reporters in the locker room in Seattle that the Giants had been outcoached as well as outplayed. That has become a familiar refrain by Giants players after deflating losses. Tailback Tiki Barber said the same thing after the Giants were shut out by the Panthers in the first round of last season's NFC playoffs. Coughlin, a taskmaster, doesn't exactly inspire great affection among his players, and they're quick to jump on him when they get a chance.
Barber backed down from his comments only slightly after the playoff defeat but said during training camp this summer that he and Coughlin were on good terms. This time around, Shockey issued a public apology. But the Giants have problems that are bigger at this point than just trying to coexist peacefully with their coach.
The club remade its defense during the offseason, adding linebacker LaVar Arrington -- after he'd bought his way out of his contract with the Redskins -- and retooling the secondary. The idea was that Arrington would combine with Strahan and defensive end Osi Umenyiora to give the Giants an aggressive, hard-charging defense that could pressure opposing quarterbacks into mistakes. But it isn't happening. The Giants have only two sacks. Veteran cornerback Sam Madison, signed as a free agent in the offseason, has been exploited in particular, and the Giants have surrendered 853 passing yards and 92 points in three games.
"I'm sure everyone is saying, 'Throw the ball on the Giants if you want to win,' " Pierce said. "Hopefully, we can fix that this week. . . . Sometimes things don't click right away. If you look at our defense last year, it was about the same at this point. We weren't stopping the pass early. It was the same thing. Then we hit a point where teams couldn't get 150 yards against us, so hopefully that time will come soon."
On offense, Shockey has been limping on a bad ankle and wide receiver Plaxico Burress has been bothered by a sore back. The offensive line allowed quarterback Eli Manning to be sacked eight times by the Eagles. Manning began his third NFL season with a solid performance against the Colts and an Elway-esque comeback against the Eagles, but then threw three interceptions in Seattle.
"It's a matter of we've just got to go out there and execute well and make good plays and make smart decisions," Manning said Monday. "It's tough sometimes. You get in a situation where you have one bad play and it's tough to overcome that. You've just got to try to eliminate the bad plays and play smart football."
Coughlin took a back-to-basics approach last week in attempting to address the Giants' problems. He oversaw meetings in which the Giants essentially scouted themselves, and he ran practices stressing fundamentals rather than specific preparations for the Redskins. He tried to figure out why the Giants were starting so sluggishly in games and how opposing receivers were getting open so consistently. Getting ready for the Redskins was put off until this week.
"My position in terms of how you solve some of these problems, or if you choose to call it adversity, [is] you have to be bold about it," Coughlin said during a news conference last week. "You have to take a positive attitude. I always tell the players there are no victims here. We've created the problem for ourselves and we c an solve the problem for ourselves. But we can't go about our business in that lame-dog, pulled-back-in fashion. That's not the way to do it. What we have to do is be man enough to recognize where the problems lie and do something about it and come together as one to do something about it."
Late last week, Coughlin was asked if he was eager for a breather. "Not really," he said. "I'm not eager for that at all. I'm eager to win a game."
His players, though, were thankful for a little time away from their workplace problems.
"Guys got a chance to go home and kind of get away from football a little bit," Strahan said Monday. "Sometimes that can be one of the best things for you. Usually, later in the year is a little better [for a bye week]. But I think for us, it came at the right time."