What will Coughlin do in finale?

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin has a decision to make on whether to play his starters Sunday, and if so, how much? Health could be an overriding factor for in his decision.

It was decades ago, the morning after the Miami Dolphins won their first Super Bowl, that head coach Don Shula presided over the day-after press conference. He had just won his second straight title, and what he said that morning was about as realistic as any head coach had been before or since.

"We might not have been the best team in the league this year," he said, "but we damned sure were the healthiest."

Those words coming from Super Bowl VIII still hold true, and Sunday, when the Giants will face the dilemma of whether to play their regulars in a game that has little meaning for them, head coach Tom Coughlin, who was 27 years old at the time, will have to make a decision.

His publicly spoken feelings in such situations are that nobody rests until the season is over, until there are no more games to play. He proved that last year in the finale, although he was determined to stop the Patriots' unbeaten streak. He didn't do that, losing a spirited 38-35 decision, but four weeks later he prevented them from going all the way through in SB XLII with a remarkable upset.

Now the Giants are the top seed in the NFC playoffs with home-field advantage throughout, while the 9-6 Minnesota Vikings, who will host Sunday's game, need to win in order to take the crown in the NFC North.

What will Coughlin do?

Perhaps some clue may be deduced from his explanation about injuries. "If a guy is hurt, it might be a good time," he has said. So maybe half a dozen or more of the starters will be benched. But will the others get time off for free? Will we see David Carr at quarterback instead of Eli Manning, for instance? Maybe, after the first half.

The overriding feeling on the part of all players and coaches is that you play the game, any game, determined to win, determined to use the best players available. But if they're injured, are they truly available? Maybe that will be Coughlin's excuse.

And as one player said: "Hey, if they (the Vikings) are so damned concerned about winning their division, how come they lost six games?"

NOTES

  • K John Carney, originally signed in September as a temporary replacement for Lawrence Tynes, has scored 130 points, the second-highest total in team history but too far away from the team record (Jay Feely, 148 in 2005) for him to have any hope of taking that. With his eight points last Sunday, the 44-year-old Carney passed RB Joe Morris (126 in 1985) and K Ali Haji-Sheikh (127 in 1983).

  • ORT Kareem McKenzie gave up two sacks last week vs. Carolina and was clearly laboring under the duress of his back spasms. He will likely miss the game Sunday, or most of it, as the Giants try to determine if they have a backup capable of starting. Their choices range from Kevin Boothe to Guy Whimper to Adam Koets, and so far the results have been less than heartening.

  • TE Kevin Boss was the only surprise on the injury list Wednesday, being kept out of practice with a concussion. It is said to be mild and he should be ready for some action — but not the whole game — on Sunday.

  • QB David Carr, who saw brief action in the Giants' fourth game of the season, playing the final few minutes of a 44-6 rout of Seattle, is expected to get "significant playing time" Sunday in Minnesota. He signed a one-year contract for the veteran's minimum of $700,000 but indicates he would not be averse to re-upping with the Giants. "This is the best group of guys I've been around," he says. "They know what it takes to win and they don't mind the hard work."

  • RG Chris Snee is one who wants to play. "I hear about how we locked it all up and have the bye and the home field and all that," he said. "But there's still a game to play and we should go out and do our best to try to win it."


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