No shame in being out-coached

Let's get one thing out of the way right away – Tom Coughlin and his staff was most definitely out-coached by John Fox and the Panthers. And Tiki Barber was 100 percent accurate in saying so. Sure Barber relented the next day, saying that he shouldn't have said what he did. But did you notice that Barber never said his original comments weren't true? That's because he was dead-on accurate.

But the bottom line is that one game does not define Coughlin and these Giants. No doubt, it was an embarrassing way to end the season, but this team way out-kicked its coverage this season, winning 11 games when many thought they wouldn't even notch six.

Fox and his Panthers, just two years removed from the Super Bowl, have been there and done that. There's no shame at all in getting beaten by the Panthers. Shutout and dominated? Perhaps. But no one can honestly be all that surprised that the Panthers won. For much of the season, they seemed like the class of the NFC. Against the Giants, they showed just how wide the gap is between the two clubs. You got the feeling watching that massacre that Big Blue wouldn't have scored even if they stayed on the field after the Panthers hit the locker room.

But what really matters after an emotional final few weeks to the season is this: Behind Coughlin, who was rarely beaten in battles of Xs and Os this year, the Giants are definitely heading in the right direction…

Another encore for Tiki?

As for Barber's on-field abilities, we all certainly remember saying after last year's superb season that there was no way Barber could even come close to duplicating that type of season. Then he went out and topped it. That's why anyone who even begins to question how much Barber has left in the tank obviously isn't playing close enough attention.

Ditto for Michael Strahan

What to do about Plax?

Plaxico Burress' on-field contributions were huge this past season. However, the off-field stuff he was infamous for started to rear its ugly head late in the season. There were published reports, albeit not from the most credible of sources, that teammates said Burress quit during the Redskins and Panthers games. Then word came out that Plax skipped his season-ending meeting.

It's obvious that Burress was unhappy down the stretch with how he was underutilized, and he obviously did a good job of basically biting his tongue to the media. However, his actions need to match his words – and he needs to make sure everyone involved knows that he's on board and is dedicated to the cause. Of course, earlier this season Burress was benched for the first quarter in San Diego after arriving late for a meeting.

Most Giants say they enjoy Burress as a teammate and his talent level is obvious, but someone in the leadership department – Barber or Strahan sound good to us – needs to sit Plax down and make sure he's on board – 100 percent of the time…

Weighing in on Eli

It wouldn't be a season-ending column without some thoughts on Eli Manning. He had what could only be described as a strange season. From week to week, you really never knew what you were going to get from Manning. When he succeeded and played at a high level, which he did often, you weren't the least bit surprised. But the same applied when he started throwing the ball to the other team with alarming regularity, which happened on numerous occasions.

Manning is obviously on quite a steep learning curve, and also has the weight of the world on his shoulders. But the Giants need to know that he won't put them in jeopardy as often as he did this past season. They can't possibly know that at this point. The fact that he continually throws passes off his back foot, most with terrible results, is a bit alarming and makes one wonder exactly what type of coaching he is getting.

But when push comes to shove, TGI will take its chances with Manning to be the guy to eventually lead the Giants to the Promised Land. He definitely has the talent and ability, but it's going to take an awful lot of hard work for him to get there…

Actions speak louder…

For starters, if Plax and Jeremy Shockey were really team-first guys they would know that they're needed in New Jersey this offseason – not in Miami – because their presence can only help Manning develop. If, as expected, they opt to work out in Miami once again, it will really speak volumes about what they're all about…

TC wins ‘em over

Finally, most of the Giants were very critical of Coughlin and his coaching methods when he first took over. It's obvious for all to see that Coughlin still has some crazy rules and coaching techniques, but that he's relaxed as he's gotten more comfortable and gotten to know his team better. After last year, you could probably count the number of players that would admit they liked Coughlin on one hand. One year later, you can flip that statement full circle. Most everybody is now on board, which can only bode well for the future.

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