Don't miss out – Coughlin has Giants believing

What did we miss in our evaluation process? How did we grossly underestimate the 2004 Giants? No, it wasn't just us media dummies forecasting a 10 on the right side of the team's won-loss record. Fans weren't exactly freeing up early January weekends. Heck, not even the Giants were talking tough about the Giants in training camp.

In other words, just about everybody had the Giants stinking this season.

What did we miss, Kurt Warner? Tell us. Please.

"You guys saw last year and figured there's no way we could turn it around in one year,'' Warner said. "There are still a number of guys here who went to the Super Bowl a few years ago.''

Warner continued. "Guys in this room didn't buy into that whole theory. Last year was last year, and you move on. Every player in the locker room spent every day of the offseason thinking, 'I'm forgetting about last year. I have something to accomplish this year.' ''

That's part of it. But there are many other variables that help explain the Giants start. Some of them are obvious, such as Warner proving he has something left on his fastball.

Others are not so obvious, such as coach Tom Coughlin stressing the importance of team values.

What did we miss? We missed a lot, for sure, beginning with undervaluing Coughlin's impact on this football team.

Even Coughlin's fiercest supporters wouldn't have figured on his ability to help minimize the team's mistakes. Four games into the season the Giants were a plus-10 in turnover differential, Tiki Barber had not fumbled and mental mistakes were rare. There were still too many penalties (29 for 215 yards) at the quarter pole, though even that statistic was prettier than the mistake-filled mess (37-320) at the same point last year.

Coughlin's attention to detail has paid off. But so has his attention to building a football team instead of a 53-man football roster. Coughlin has harped on players being accountable to teammates. It's a sharp psychological ploy that leaves players wanting to excel for their peers, no matter their personal feelings for Coughlin. At least one player, for example, reminded Jeremy Shockey of his blunder after being hit with a taunting penalty against Green Bay. These kinds of things eventually help bond a locker room.

"I think that's important for winning teams,'' Barber said.

Let's face it; Coughlin is a better coach than a lot of us thought. Put all of his teachings together, add a few necessary early wins and here's what we have: "These guys,'' Warner said, "believe.''

They believe and now they try to take the next step from NFL surprise to NFL playoff contender. Coughlin is making sure they don't get too full of themselves, a characteristic of last year's bunch. But like Warner says, the 2004 Giants are a lot different than the 2003 edition.

"I think every team takes on the personality of the coach,'' Warner said. "When I was in St. Louis the personality was aggressive, throwing caution to the wind. Here it's a little more conservative, a little more reserved. This team is about taking care of the football and putting players in the best position to win.''

OK, so what else did we miss? We missed considering the full value of defensive players signed in the offseason. Norman Hand and Fred Robbins have been superb tackles. Barrett Green and Carlos Emmons are upgrades at linebacker. Brent Alexander has done a fine job at free safety while tutoring rookie strong safety Gibril Wilson.

We missed taking into account the benefit of two healthy Wills at cornerback. Allen and Peterson have been exceptional in coverage. Allen seems all the way back from a foot injury, Peterson from a stress fracture in his lower back.

We missed the nice blend of youth, talent and veteran leadership on the offensive line. Boy did we miss that one, unable to extinguish the memory of pass rushers constantly jumping ugly on Kerry Collins. The Giants have plenty of work ahead. Maybe they will eventually confirm our initial assessments. But it doesn't look that way. As Warner said, teams take on the personality of their coach. And this coach knows what the heck he's doing.

* * *

Jeremy Shockey has always straddled the line between expressing emotion and letting his emotions get out of control. Shockey went too far against Green Bay, drawing a taunting penalty for spiking the ball after a catch. Nobody wants to sap Shockey of his emotional energy. But he must abide by one rule concerning his on-field conduct: If it costs the team 15 yards, it's bad.

With that said, officials have to come to an agreement over what constitutes taunting. Non-end zone spikes happen all the time without players getting flagged. Other times players aren't flagged despite performing theatrical dance numbers after big plays. Shockey's wild-guy reputation played a role in the penalty.

Of course, who knows if it actually was a penalty. Enforcement apparently depends on the official.

* * *

Defensive tackle William Joseph is off to a fast start and reporters are eager to write about it. But Joseph has to be a first among former University of Miami players: He hates talking to the media and has turned down several interview requests.

Joseph has no obligation to talk to the media. He does, however, have an obligation to occasionally share his thoughts with fans that help pay his salary. Reporters are middlemen in the communication process.

We aren't requesting Joseph provide a daily diary, just a few words on occasion to help humanize him for fans. That isn't asking too much.

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