The Giants' 29-10 loss to the Titans Sunday, featuring five personal fouls from veteran players who should have known better, may have been illustrative of a team that has stopped listening to its coach.
Or, it could just be a bunch of lunk-head moves that happened to converge in one game. Quite likely, it's that more than anything Tom Coughlin has or hasn't said in the past this season.
Quite often, a loss of poise does rest on the coach's shoulders. Indeed, Coughlin came out after the game and put that burden on himself. But that was probably just a textbook move to take the heat off his players and redirect it to his own head while things simmer down after a turbulent locker room week. In truth, it wasn't Coughlin who tried to rip a Titans helmet off, or retaliate for a perceived cheap shot, or get somebody back for a true cheap shot that left Antrel Rolle with a busted lip.
So it's tough, no matter how hard one might try – and there are plenty out there who are doing just that – to put that loss all on Coughlin and demand his immediate firing/imprisonment/draw-and-quartering/etc. At some point, players have to realize what consequences their actions might bring, and keep their cool as opposing forearms and fists start flying. It's a message Coughlin has long broadcast to his team. DO NOT RETALIATE. The fact that five people failed to listen in one particular game is more a reflection on them, not the coach.
However, the other side of this is that this was exactly the kind of loss an owner can look back upon in an unsuccessful season and use as cause to change coaches. This was a winnable game, undermined not only by the penalties, but by mistakes in the Red Zone. To put up nearly 500 yards of total offense and outgain a team by 300 yards, an offense has to be doing something right. But an end zone interception and an Ahmad Bradshaw fumble, both after penetrating to the Tennessee 6, took away two chances to score points.
Defensively, the Giants accomplished their mission against Chris Johnson, even though he did finish with 125 rushing yards. They played physically enough, with rookie Jason Pierre-Paul adding an outstanding play early when he sliced through the guards to drop Johnson for a loss. Mathias Kiwanuka had his fourth sack of the season, coming out of a linebacker spot, no less.
So there were numerous bright spots, enough to provide hope for the future. But the end result was dreadful enough to turn the seat that Coughlin sits on a little hotter.
If his players continue their mindless ways, their coach may ultimately have no seat to sit on at all come season's end.
And it'll be all their fault because they should know better.