Winning cures everything

Winning cures everything. The Giants win and fans nominate Tom Coughlin for Man of the Year. The Giants win and players understand Coughlin's style. The Giants win and Coughlin media supporters emerge from underneath their computers. <BR><BR>

The Giants win and the team needs discipline. The Giants win and starting meetings five minutes early makes perfect sense. The Giants win and that crotchety old coach isn't so crotchety after all.

Here's one: The Giants win and Coughlin can do whatever the hell he wants.

Coughlin became a non-story as quickly as the Giants head into Green Bay this Sunday off consecutive wins over Washington and Cleveland. Two losses there, or even one, and skepticism would have remained.

But the Giants beat up on the Redskins to snap a nine-game losing streak. Next thing we know, Michael Strahan's handing Coughlin the game ball in a giddy post-game locker-room scene.

The Giants rout the Browns and players such as Amani Toomer are saying, "We're getting used to him. I respect the fact that he's pretty intense. It's something we had to get used to.''

Strahan and three others reportedly complaining to the union over fines? Unnamed Giants griping to the union over Coughlin abusing minicamp time constraints? Let's not dwell on such silly little matters. Time to move on.

Suddenly the Veterans vs. Coughlin makes for incredibly dull reality TV. Earlier showdowns officially became distractions from another era. Call it Coughlin PW.


Make no mistake; the ingredients for a power struggle remain within arm's reach. The true test of how much players have bought into Coughlin will show following a losing streak. Hang a three- or four-game skid on the Giants and see how chummy players are with the old ball coach. And vice versa.

Did some folks in the media overreact to Coughlin's tough-love approach? Maybe. But we only know what we see, and what we hear, and the Giants had horrible body language entering the season opener. Even Coughlin griped about the team's listlessness with jobs on the line in preseason.

Coughlin deserves credit for not wavering in his coaching methods. The Giants deserve credit for focusing on winning instead of their relationship with Coach Dictator.

But the main source of credit is shaped in the letter "W.''

Damn straight winning cures everything.

* * *

No defense for Lewis

No matter what happens Sunday at Lambeau Field, the team's early MVP isn't a player at all. It's defensive coordinator Tim Lewis.

The Giants have better defensive personnel than last year. Linebackers Barrett Green and Carlos Emmons, and defensive tackles Norman Hand and Fred Robbins are better – as a whole – than the crew that departed in the offseason.

But Lewis is a huge upgrade over Johnnie Lynn. In Lynn's two seasons as coordinator, the Giants were a whopping minus-18 in turnover differential, including minus-16 last season. Entering Sunday's game the Giants lead the NFL with a plus-eight.

That's why Lewis was the first assistant hired by Coughlin.

* * *

Rookie on the rise

Strong safety Shaun Williams' season-ending injury may not become a devastating loss to the Giants. Williams was off to a decent start and is a steady influence in the locker room.

But his replacement, rookie Gibril Wilson, has shown to be a fast learner. In fact learning isn't the only thing Wilson does fast. His speed and quickness bring a whole new set of assets to a position typically manned by stronger players.

Wilson is just 197 pounds, 21 pounds lighter than Williams. But both players hit hard. Wilson uses speed to increase his velocity, as he unveiled to Cleveland receiver Quincy Morgan on a late-game sideline route.

Free safety Brent Alexander has played a major role in Wilson's development. Alexander makes sure Wilson is properly aligned and in the right scheme. Wilson also has benefited from covering talented teammates in practice, notably tight end Jeremy Shockey.

"Those guys help me understand the speed of the game and what to look for,'' said Wilson, who plans to add five pounds of muscle in the offseason. "Brent talks to me before plays, after plays. I just have to play with speed instead of my weight. Hopefully I can change it to a speed position.''

* * *

Playoff contender?

It's never too early to start thinking about the playoffs. The Giants showed us something by winning two of their first three games. Their next four games, beginning at Green Bay this Sunday, will show us a whole lot more.

The games will show if the Giants can be taken seriously as a playoff hopeful. Green Bay begins the varsity portion of the Giants schedule. Next they visit Dallas, play host to Detroit after a bye week and travel to Minnesota. The Giants will be underdogs in at least three of those games. Win two of the four, take a 4-3 record into November and eyebrows can be raised.

By Halloween, when the Giants make their seemingly annual trip to Minnesota, they will have answered some important questions. We will know if they have enough talent to make a playoff run. We will know if they are a year, or more, away.

There is nothing guaranteed in the NFL, from contracts on down. Wins and losses are never guaranteed. Playoff spots usually aren't guaranteed until Week 17. We can only make educated guesses.

But know this about the 2004 Giants. They must find a way to go 2-2, beginning in Green Bay. Pull off a shocking win at Lambeau, or take 2-of-3 against Dallas, Detroit and Minny.

Just to be clear, a 4-3 start guarantees the Giants nothing, especially not a playoff berth. All it guarantees is that they deserve to be taken seriously for a spot in the postseason. And, well, how many of us gave the Giants a shot at playing a 17th game when they lined up on opening day in Philadelphia? Certainly not me. How about you?

The Giants still may be a lot closer to 6-10 than 10-6. But now there is hope.

And in the NFL, hope goes a long way.

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