As the Giants prepare for the playoffs in Tampa – raise your EZ-Pass if you thought we'd be using ‘Giants' and ‘playoff game' in the same sentence this season – it seems like a good time to review the pluses and minuses, good and bad, the positives and negatives of the 2007 season.
Perhaps there will be more to talk about as January unfolds. Perhaps there may even be something to discuss the first week of February – and wouldn't that be a trip (to Glendale, Arizona for those who didn't get a GPS this Christmas).
Until then, here's what's been worth remembering – and forgetting – about the season.
The Giants were one of only four NFL teams to enter the final week of the season with seven road wins. That's a phenomenal accomplishment considering the others – the Patriots, Colts and Cowboys – all came into the season as Super Bowl favorites. It also bodes well for success in the playoffs, since the road will already be well-traveled if the team makes it to Arizona.
Three home wins – the same number as the 49ers prior to the season-finale against the Patriots – makes you want to slam your head through a wall. Imagine how different things might have been if they could have figured out a way to beat the Vikings or Redskins.
Making the playoffs for the third straight season is a great accomplishment for any team in any professional sport. Many pundits – including the guy rocking back and forth this week in the catbird seat – suspected the Giants wouldn't win more than four games, setting the stage for Tom Coughlin's ouster.
Every team loses games they have no business losing during the season. The losses to the Vikings and Redskins down the stretch, the result of mindless mistakes and a maddening lack of energy, were really inexcusable potholes in what could have been a much better season.
Steve Spagnuolo took a major risk leaving the comfort, safety and relative security of Andy Reid's staff in Philadelphia to become Coughlin's defensive coordinator. Not many expected this staff to be intact after this season, meaning Spags would have been looking for another job after just one season in the Meadowlands. But the more you see him on the sidelines, the more you realize he did the right thing. He's bright, energetic and exactly where he should be at this point of his career.
Eli Manning has not responded to the new set of coaches assigned to his development. When John Hufnagel was dismissed as offensive coordinator – and Kevin Gilbride promoted – it was anticipated the fresh point of view would benefit the young quarterback. The hiring of Chris Palmer to replace Gilbride figured to only accentuate the positives Manning had displayed. But there remain too many inconsistencies in Manning's play, enough that it's not unreasonable to suspect – or fear if you are really the nervous type – that he may be more Tim Couch or David Carr than Peyton You-Know-Who.
The play of the rookie class has been very good. It's not always that way. But Aaron Ross, Kevin Boss, Ahmad Bradshaw, Craig Dahl, Zak DeOssie, Jay Alford, Michael Johnson and Michael Matthews have all made contributions and Steve Smith, the second pick, would have likely been an important part of the offense had he not been hurt early. Of all these guys, the ones who excite the guy in the catbird seat the most are Ross, Bradshaw and DeOssie.
Like during most seasons, the most distressing part comes when players start to fall to injuries and the losses of Mathias Kiwanuka, Jeremy Shockey and Derrick Ward to broken legs took a lot of steam out of the team. Kiwanuka is going to be a great player. Shockey is a Pro Bowl player. Ward was injured in the greatest game of his career. The season would have been a lot more enjoyable if all of this hadn't happened.
Coughlin has done a great job with this team and deserves the chance to come back with a little more security – both in years and money. Listen, it didn't take a genius to theorize that TC was being set up for a fall after charting the offseason moves made by management. And it would have made perfect sense if Jerry Reese wanted his own man coaching his team. Why shouldn't a rookie GM be given that right? But now it seems unlikely that Reese or ownership can call for Coughlin's dismissal, even if the Giants lose another playoff game. If Coughlin is fired, it will provide a clearer picture into the relationship he had – or didn't have – with those in charge of his fate.
To those who believe the Giants would be better off without Coughlin, a contract extension will be the worst possible news. Think back to the state of the Giants in 2000 prior to Jim Fassel's Thanksgiving guarantee the team would make the playoffs. It seemed management was already planning for its next step. Then the Giants made the playoffs and advanced to Super Bowl XXXV, foiling all plans to move ahead. For those whose coffee mugs are half-empty when they think of Coughlin, making the playoffs this season will come at a heavy price.
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