By Ernie Palladino
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Pride. Honor. Dignity.

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You know exactly where a team stands when coaches use these terms. In other areas of life, they are qualities by which one tries to build a life. When a football coach uses them, it means that his team is most likely losing.

Tom Coughlin used all three of those terms in an emotional address to his players on Wednesday morning, shortly before he used those same words to the media. Even at 8-7, with no chance at all of finishing this season below .500 as the Eagles head to MetLife Stadium on Sunday, he pulled out the vocabulary of our military because, unlike our victorious soldiers, the Giants have only these things to hang onto now.

The playoff hopes — so alive and vibrant, with no need to harken on pride, honor and dignity a few weeks ago — are just about dashed now. In order for the Giants to get into the postseason, they not only have to beat the Eagles, but the Cowboys, Vikings and Bears all have to lose.

In all probability, that won’t happen. And that, considering where the Giants were just three short weeks ago, will mean that this season ends up in colossal failure.

Thus, a loser’s vocabulary for a non-losing team.

“That’s what I talked to our team about this morning, was pride, honor, dignity,” Coughlin said. “Play the game the way we’re capable of playing the game. Finish the season with a game we can all be proud of.”

Coughlin has pulled out these concepts before. When he took over in 2004, faced with rebuilding the 4-12 shambles that Jim Fassel had left, he addressed the restoration of Giants pride as his initial goal.

They were losers, and they remained losers through that first 6-10 season. But then the playoffs started happening, and then magical two Super Bowl runs, and then a 6-2 start to this season. There was no need to bring up those ideas because, let’s face it, it doesn’t matter if you win beautiful or ugly in the NFL — it just matters that you win. Pride in taking a commanding lead from the start, dignity in playing mistake-free football and honoring the uniform colors count for little on the scoreboard.

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Just win, baby.

It’s only when things go south that pride, honor and dignity come north. Do you think that Rex Ryan won’t be saying the same thing in his dysfunctional locker room as this 6-9 disaster ends mercifully against Buffalo on Sunday? The problem there is that the Jets don’t have a lot of those qualities to begin with.

They’re basically tools of convenience. When all else fails, call on pride, honor and dignity. Does it mean that losing teams play without those qualities? No. Maybe they’re just bad players, or the coaches gave them a bad game plan.

If you’re blown out in embarrassing fashion, as the Giants have been the past two games, does it mean that they’ve played without pride, honor and dignity? Has Eli Manning magically lost all of those assets that were imagined to be there when he was winning those first-half games, or when he pounded Green Bay? Or was it simply the lack of those qualities on the Packers’ side that led to said pounding?

Did the Giants have a surplus of those things when they put up 52 against New Orleans, or did the Saints simply not have enough of them?

Yet, here the Giants sit at 8-7, needing a miracle to make it to the postseason where win-or-go-home supplants pride, honor and dignity as a weekly battle cry.

It’s always a shame when a coach has to call on a team’s pride, honor and dignity. In any other walk of life, they are noble concepts. They make individuals turn into better individuals. They help people push through fear and create true heroism.

They are not clichés for losing teams.

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How do you explain what happened to the Giants down the stretch? Can you? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…