EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — In the past five quarters, the New York Giants have gone from a division winner looking at a first-round playoff bye to a team needing help from the Chicago Bears to get into the postseason.
Pick a word to describe the situation, and the Giants (9-5) probably used it Wednesday in looking forward to their regular-season finale against the Redskins (6-9) in Washington.
Disappointing. Frustrating. Unsettling. Upsetting. They all fit the bill.
Blame? That was something the players reserved for themselves, and not coach Tom Coughlin.
Unfortunately for the 64-year-old coach, a second straight late-season collapse might put his job in jeopardy, even with a 10-6 record.
“I think guys still respect him and appreciate the mindset and the energy that he brings to the table,” defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. “Like I said, we don’t get to choose our coach, but no one in this locker room has fallen out of favor with anybody else. We’re still a family. We’ve been through a lot and we’re just trying to win a tough game.”
What’s remarkable is how quickly the Giants’ postseason hopes have changed.
A little more than a week ago, the Giants held a 31-10 lead over the Eagles with 8 minutes to play in the NFC East showdown, then were stunned when Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson rallied Philadelphia to 38-31 win.
Knowing they had a chance to clinch a playoff berth this past weekend in Green Bay, the Giants gave a dreadful performance in a 45-17 loss that has put the Packers (9-6) in position to clinch a wild-card berth.
All the Pack has to do is win and they’re in. The Giants need to beat Washington and hope that Chicago, which has already clinched a first-round bye, beats Green Bay.
“We just hope the worst happens for Green Bay,” halfback Brandon Jacobs said. “We did it to ourselves and now we have to deal with it.”
It’s the second year in a row the Giants can say that. They started last season 5-0 and lost eight of 11 down the stretch, including no-show efforts in their final two games to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Coughlin, who led the Giants to a Super Bowl victory over previously unbeaten New England in February 2008, survived that collapse. Can he get through another?
Guard Chris Snee wondered why his father-in-law’s job would be hanging in the balance when two weeks ago everyone seemed pleased with his work.
“Now two weeks later everyone changes their viewpoint of the guy,” Snee said. “It’s absurd. I realize that’s the profession we are in and that can be a possibility. Like I said, our focus is to win this football game and pray for Chicago to win.”
When challenged about his use of the word absurd, Snee’s ire got up for split second.
“Why not?” he said. “If we win this, we’ll have 10 wins. He wasn’t the reason we collapsed in the fourth quarter against Philadelphia. He wasn’t the reason we played like (excrement) against Green Bay.”
Pro Bowl safety Antrel Rolle said the goal for the Giants is to get back to playing dominant football, something the defense has not done in giving up 83 points in the past two games.
Not only has the defense struggled but the offense turned the ball over six times in the loss to Green Bay; the running game has been inconsistent; and special teams allowed Philadelphia to recover an onside kick and Jackson to return a punt for a touchdown on the final play in the loss to the Eagles.
While the last two games have been devastating, Rolle said no one is hanging his head.
“We can’t fault anyone but ourselves,” Rolle said. “We had it in the grasp of our hand and we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. Now we have to leave it in the hands of someone else, which in this league is something you never want to do. You don’t ever want someone else to control you destiny. You want to control it yourself.”
Quarterback Eli Manning said blaming the coaches is unfair, but he understands that’s what happens when teams lose.
“So far, we haven’t played up to our potential,” said Manning, who threw four interceptions Sunday. “That’s not on the coaches. He (Coughlin) may get blamed for it but that’s on the players. We are well coached. We are well prepared.”
Since 1978, when the NFL expanded to a 16-game season, 16 teams have won 10 or more games and failed to get to the postseason.
There were 11 instances from 1978-89, when only five teams in each conference made the playoffs, including an 11-5 Denver team in 1985. It also happened to the Giants (10-6) in 1988.
Only five 10-win teams have failed to make the playoffs since 1990, when the NFL increased to six teams in each conference advancing to the postseason. New England (11-5) missed in 2008, while the other teams with 10 wins that failed to get in were Philadelphia (1991), Miami (2003), Kansas City (2005) and Cleveland (2007).
Linebacker Keith Bulluck said Coughlin’s future also was in question earlier this season when New York lost two of its first three games.
“We’ve played some good football here at different points in the season,” Bulluck said. “I just think that stuff is unfortunate, especially when you’re a player here and you know how much the coach emphasizes specific things and you as a team don’t go out and get it done, and it falls back on him.”
Placekicker Lawrence Tynes said there is no mystery why the Giants are in their current position and he said it’s ridiculous to blame Coughlin.
“It’s just New York,” Tynes said. “Tom is a winner and has been a winner his whole career. After we get 10 wins we’ll see what happens, but it’s just ridiculous. We’re the ones on the field. He’s a proven winner, won a world championship. All his teams have done is won and we’re going to have his back this week if that’s the case.”
AP sports statistician Robbie Mendelson contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.