Coughlin's Right – Talk is Cheap

Tom Coughlin hit the bull's eye by telling his team to shut up and play. The Giants have a long history of trying to talk their way into the Super Bowl. Jim Fassel went through it. Now Coughlin's going through it.

You have to wonder why the Giants never meet expectations, why they are best as the underdog and worst as the favorite. It happened in 2003, when they came to training camp talking Super Bowl after that playoff debacle in San Francisco. The Giants' Super Bowl team turned into a 4-12 joke and Fassel lost his job.

The Giants had more modest expectations last year. Sure enough they went 11-5 and won the division. This camp we were back to hearing Super Bowl chatter, which, to Giants fans, has started to resemble the eerie sound of a devil's whisper.

Coughlin jumped ugly on his team in the media after the season opener, and he's right. The Giants should worry about winning a playoff game before talking about playing in the big game. Bold talk makes for great copy – trust me, us media folk love it – but the Giants do a terrible job of backing it up.

The Giants are coming off a big season. But they haven't won a lot of big games lately. They had the playoff plum against Carolina – wait, I think DeShaun Foster just went off tackle for 12 – and three huge games leading up to it where they got tight in two of them.

The Giants could have clinched the division title at Washington on Christmas Eve. But they obviously left their defense under the tree, and Washington won going away, 35-20. Two other late-season games question the Giants' resolve. They needed overtime to beat a spent Eagles team, 26-23, and lost to Seattle in overtime when Jay Feely forgot how to kick field goals.

Feely hasn't exactly regained form. He came up small again in the season opener against Indianapolis, missing a 40-yarder in the second quarter. Adam Vinatieri, of course, couldn't miss if he tried. Big games, small efforts. About the only solace for Feely was that his name isn't Mike Nugent.

"It's a marathon, not a sprint,'' the Giants waxed cliché afterward.

It is that. But it's also a league where players must continuously respond to pressure, not crumble like dead leaves at the sight of it. Only two teams out of 32 make the Super Bowl. They are the very best at winning pressure-packed games.

Parity has left most NFL games coming down to a handful of plays: a missed kick here, a make there, a fumble here, an interception there. Winning close games is an art form. The Giants were 2-3 in games decided by fewer than seven points last season.

So the Giants not only lost their opener. They not only traveled to Philadelphia with a great sense of urgency. They lost another big game, and another close game, and it's fair to wonder if they have the personnel to do both consistently.

The Giants continue to commit too many penalties and way too many stupid penalties. False starts are stupid penalties. The Giants had five of them against Indy. Delay of games are stupid penalties. The Giants had one of them against Indy.

This on top of having the third-most penalties in the league last season with 143. Arizona was second with 145 and, of course, Oakland first at 147. The Giants left their opener with 10 penalties. That's a 160-penalty pace. The Giants haven't finished a season with fewer than 100 penalties since 2001.

Why are the Giants so prone to mistakes? The false start penalties suggest a lack of focus and concentration. Big Blue's offensive line still has a habit of getting jumpy in big spots.

Defensive backs are still dropping potential interceptions. Somewhere in Miami Will Allen is smiling, assured that he didn't drop every would-be pick the last few seasons. Maybe not Will, but it certainly seemed that way.

The Giants have a knack for committing huge turnovers. Against Indy it was a botched handoff between Eli Manning and Tiki Barber. Then Manning floated a pass into the Giants Stadium sky that could have been picked off by any number of Colts. Cornerback Nick Harper called for it and the Giants were finished.

Big game, big loss. The season may be a marathon. But it's never too early to wonder if your team has a gold-medal finish in them.

The Giants can talk with the best of them. But can they play with the best of them? Until the Giants prove otherwise, the answer is a resounding "no."

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It's Official: They stink

The season just started and we are already cursing the officials. Memo to the NFL: Officiating isn't bad, it's deplorable.

It's embarrassingly bad, atrocious, disgraceful, whatever synonym for awful you decide to use.

Officiating is the league's only black eye, year in and year out. The only other annual mistake is instant replay, and that doesn't work mostly because, again, the officiating is so bad. Officials overturn calls that should stand, and let stand calls that should be overturned.

Maybe the league should just use instant replay to determine controversial penalties. Now there's an idea. Use the same challenge system. Coaches will throw their flag when they don't agree with the flag that was thrown. Penalties, outside of some holding calls, are pretty clear-cut on replay. Even today's official should be able to decipher whether there's a penalty after watching 40 slow-mo instant replays.

Of course, that measure would only greatly embarrass league officials who butchered the original call. And we wouldn't want to do that now, would we?

OK, maybe we would.

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