The message didn't get through as the Giants produced their second straight poor performance, this one a 44-7 dismantling by the playoff-bound Minnesota Vikings. It was a game that marked the second time in as many weeks the Giants defense surrendered 40-plus points and the offense failed to score more than 10 points.
"To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if (Giants co-owner) John Mara takes off without us," center Shaun O'Hara said after the game. "We disrespected the Giants logo today."
That they did, and the defense wasn't the only guilty party. The offensive line, again playing without starters Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie, allowed three quarterback sacks as Eli Manning was unable to get into a rhythm. They rushed for a paltry 2.9 yards per carry as running back D.J. Ware, playing for starter Brandon Jacobs (placed on injured reserve Dec. 31), led the way with five carries for 22 yards and a touchdown. In the passing game, the Giants averaged 8.4 yards per catch, turned the ball over twice and had four three-and-out series plus two others that were cut short due to turnovers.
On defense, Vikings quarterback Brett Favre shredded the hapless Giants to the tune of 316 passing yards and four touchdowns. More appalling, though, were the missed tackles and continued confusion shown by the members of the defense, who looked more like a group of individuals rather than a cohesive unit.
Finally, there were the penalties — 13 for 95 yards — which capped an overall miserable performance by a team that coming into 2009 was touted as a playoff contender.
Despite the outcome, Coughlin said he believed his players were playing for pride.
"I'm not going to say it was a great performance, but they all came to the stadium wanting to play," he said. "We didn't play well enough to prevent what happened in the game, but I really don't think for one minute that anyone was not giving effort."
When it was pointed out to Coughlin that the results made a case against his belief that the team played for pride, he became a bit testy. "I'm not making any excuses. If the offense had done something, we might have had a little better balance. The last two games have been very poor and you can never, ever accept what happened on the field."
Unfortunately, the Giants will have an entire offseason to reflect on what happened after a promising 5-0 start turned into an 8-8 finish. Both Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese have a lot of work ahead of them as they look to shake up a team that grossly underachieved.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: With wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer gone from the roster, the Giants looked to quarterback Eli Manning to hoist the offense on his shoulders and carry them to the finish line.
Manning might not have always had the support he needed from his teammates, but he certainly did his part in what was a career year for the 29-year-old quarterback. He finished the season with a career-high 4,021 yards, besting his previous mark of 3,762 yards in 2005. He also finished with 317 completions, topping his career high of 301 set in 2006. Manning finished strong, completing at least 60 percent of his passes in seven of the last eight games.
The Giants' receivers, whose collective lack of experience was a concern, came through in a big way. Third-year veteran Steve Smith finished with a franchise record 107 catches for 1,120 yards, becoming the first New York receiver to top the 100-catch mark. Smith also led or was in the top 10 in the NFL in several receiving categories, including receptions, yards and third-down receptions.
First-round draft pick Hakeem Nicks overcame an early season foot injury that caused him to miss a couple of games to finish with 47 receptions for 790 yards and six touchdowns as he moved past Mario Manningham into the number two receiver spot.
WHAT WENT WRONG: After making a concentrated effort to boost the talent on the defense, the Giants finished by surrendering 427 points, the most they've given up since 1966 when they allowed 501 points in a 14-game season.
To say that first-year defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan struggled would probably be putting it kindly. Despite the defense being torn apart by injuries, Sheridan and the unit never really established an identity nor did it manage to play with any cohesiveness.
Age and injuries finally caught up with the Giants' offensive line, as left guard Rich Seubert valiantly tried to play through most of the season with a sore shoulder that might require offseason surgery. He was eventually sidelined for the last two games with a knee injury. Starting right tackle Kareem McKenzie, who had quietly been playing one of his strongest seasons, also fell victim to the injury bug, suffering groin, back, and knee injuries.
Then there were the struggles of running back Brandon Jacobs, who never really got untracked this season. Jacobs, who was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury prior to the Vikings game, finished with 224 carries for 835 yards, a paltry 3.7 yards per carry. That's nowhere near the 219 carries for 1,089 yards (5.0 per carry) he finished with in 2008.