Think back to where Giants were at this time last year. Let's be honest and not take a revisionist history I-knew-it-all-along type approach to the Giants playoff run of last year. Most Giants fans were probably relieved rather than excited and eager that the Giants wiggled into the playoffs with that bad weather win in Buffalo. Truthfully, Giants fans had to be a little nervous about what we would see from Coughlin and Eli after an inconsistent second half of the season and particularly discouraging games against the Vikings and Redskins. After the well played Saturday night closer against the Patriots, there was a little bit of hope, but I know I would have been happy with a playoff win against the Bucs in the wildcard game and a decent showing against the Cowboys in the next round. I thought this would give Eli a chance to mature in the playoffs and that with a little growth, the Giants would be a legitimate contender in 2008.
Look where the Giants are now. Giants won 3 more games than the 2nd place team in the NFC East and finished with the best record in the NFC and the # 1 seed. Coughlin is being hailed as one of the top coaches in the NFL, the DC and the OC (rumored) are being pursued by other teams for HC jobs, Eli and a few of his teammates made the pro bowl and the GM is widely lauded as one of the very best in the league. Nothing is guaranteed, and the first game against the red hot Eagles will be a very tough one to win - after all they just beat the Giants a few weeks ago in Giants Stadium. But Giants fans are at least hopeful rather than fearful and pessimistic as they might have been last year.
I know this is Giants blog, but I can't help putting up some comments about the team every Giants fan loves to hate - the Cowboys. I still can not figure out the Cowboys. It is remarkable to me that Wade Phillip is still coaching the Cowboys. He is a terrible coach. He has never won a playoff game. NEVER!! He has zero wins. 0. Nada. Zilch. Not like Marty Schottenheimer who has a bad record in the playoffs but at least has won 5 or 6 playoff games. Phillips has taken several teams to the playoffs including some very talented ones in Buffalo. He was the genius that got beat by the Music City Miracle in Tennessee. You remember - Bills score with almost no time left and have to only cover the kickoff to get the win. Titans lateral the ball all the way across the field on the kickoff return and run it in for a TD to steal the win. Perhaps lots of coaches would get beat by that brilliant ST play..... but lots of coaches didn't - Wade Phillips did. My contention is that coaching is very important in all of the phases of football, but for special teams coaching is even more important. In fact, I assert that special teams is virtually ALL coaching. Every so often, you get that great special teams player who has the speed, the size, the motor to elevate your special teams and go beyond what coaching can do. But most of the time, it is not the players, it is the coaching. Every NFL team has a sufficient number of great athletes to field capable special teams. You might need that star to make your special teams great: Reyna Thompson of the '90 Giants, Devin Hester, Dante Hall, Dave Meggett, even David Tyree and perhaps a few others. Other than that it is the coach who coaches, organizes and gets the players to perform. In addition to that Music City Miracle play, I can point to a few important ST failures by the Cowboys this year: blocked punt in OT of the Cowboys-Cardinals game that gave the Cardinals the win; fake FG run by the Ravens against the Cowboys. In fact, in retrospect, that successful fake FG was 100% coaching. The Cowboys tactic to block FGs is to overload the left side of the defense with extra players and rush from that side. Ravens saw this on film and faked by running to the right side of the defense which was left almost completely undefended by the overload attempt. They made an easy first down leading to a TD. All coaching.
But it's more than that - Wade Phillips has no class. On the morning after the Giants beat the Cowboys in last year's playoff game, his press conference was filled with statements about how the better team lost. "We were better, we outplayed them, we wore them down in the first half, but we lost." Coaches and players are supposed to show some sportsmanship and class after a loss and Phillips did not. I am reminded of a similar opportunity for a coach to give credit to his opponents and how he handled it. The situation was the 1986 playoff game between the Giants and 49ers, a game in which the Giants led 21-3 near the end of the half. 49ers were trying to mount a 2 minute drill at the end of the half and get back into the game, but Jim Burt nailed Montana as he was passing causing the ball to float off course. LT intercepted, ran it in for a TD to make the score 28-3 at halftime and iced the game for the Giants who went on to win 49-3. But early in the first quarter, with the game still scoreless, Jerry Rice had caught a pass and was behind the defense, apparently on his way to running for an easy TD. Inexplicably, he simply fumbled the ball without being touched, the Giants recovered and dominated the rest of the way. Bill Walsh was asked after the game if he thought that Rice fumble changed the complexion of the game. Perhaps if the 49ers had taken the lead, it would have been a different game and a different result. Bill Walsh showed incredible class by answering (I'm paraphrasing here): " The Giants were the better team. They beat us and controlled the game. If Rice had scored on that play, we would have lost 49-10." That is class and sportsmanship.
There are several reasons why Jerry Jones is holding on to Phillips, IMO. He wanted to encourage his players before the Eagles finale and motivate them to play hard for the coach who would be here for a while, so he announced that Phillips would be back next year. Once he announced that, he was too stubborn to admit he was wrong and was afraid that he would appear to be weak if he was vacillating on this decision. So he stuck to his guns and is keeping the coach. Furthermore, Cowboys are opening an expensive new stadium with ridiculous PSL charges and the owner doesn't want to give the impression to the customers that the team is desperate. Continuity is important, so he is sticking with Phillips.
But I really think this may be temporary. Jerry Jones may see all the coaching changes and may want to jump in on the carousel himself. The bloom is definitely off the Jason Garrett rose, the designated coach-in-waiting. The Cowboys offense was not as productive as it should have been despite the wealth of skill positions weapons that they have. Players, including the qb Romo, have started complaining about coaching and play calling. If Jason Garrett leaves to take a HC job somewhere else and some high profile, attractive coach becomes available, Jones might just change his mind and make a coaching change. Maybe Mike Shanahan.
In that context, I almost hope Spagnuolo takes one of the HC jobs available now. I don't want to lose him from the Giants, but I think it is certain that one and perhaps two NFC East jobs will be open next year. If Jerry Jones sticks with Phillips for now, I only give him one more year in that tenure, and I am sure the Cowboys job will be available after 2009. I think it is also possible that Snyder will become disenchanted with Zorn after 2009 and the Redskins job will also become available. I don't want to see Spagnuolo take one of the NFC East jobs next year, so it might be better for the Giants if he takes one of the current job openings.
Eagles-Giants preview later in the week