When the Giants defense met Saturday night, Steve Spagnuolo chose his words very carefully. He did not want to violate the orders of Tom Coughlin, who insisted that this week not be about him, his future, and what he called his “situa tion.”
But Spags was able to honor the letter of the law, if not its spirit.
“He didn’t actually say his name,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said of the address, “but guys had a sense. We knew how much this game meant to finish strong, and we knew who to do it for.”
Coughlin said Sunday afternoon that he has not made up his mind on whether he wants to return to coach the Giants in 2016. Nor has that decision been made for him by the team’s ownership. The highest-ranking officials are expected to meet Monday to discuss that topic. But the Giants’ 35-30 loss to the Eagles at MetLife Stadium certainly felt a lot like an unceremonious sendoff for the head coach of the past 12 seasons.
Coughlin made calls this week requesting that members of his extended family attend the game, and they — including all 11 of his grandchildren — were buzzing around the field during pregame action wearing sweatshirts with “Coughlin Crew” on them.
“That was neat,” he said with a huge grandfatherly grin.
It was about the only part of the day that was.
Coughlin was asked this past week what lesson he took from 2015. “Win the close ones,” he said. This was the Giants’ eighth loss of the season by six points or fewer.
“It’s a season of missed opportunities,” defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. “I was hoping to close It out today and put those demons away. In my 12 years of playing this is one of the most disappointing seasons I’ve had.”
The Giants took their first lead of the game with 9:11 left in the third quarter one play after Jasper Brinkley forced a fumble by running back DeMarco Murray. Eli Manning hit Rueben Randle on a 45-yard deep pass for a touchdown and a 27-21 edge.
But with the Giants close to going ahead by two scores, Eagles defensive back Walter Thurmond III — who played for the Giants last season — picked off a ball that was ruled a fumble by Manning and returned it 83 yards for a touchdown to retake the lead, 28-27, with 3:34 left in the third. Connor Barwin beat rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers and hit Manning’s hand as he released the pass, sending it fluttering to Thurmond, who had been beaten on the Randle TD.
The Giants finished 6-10 and in third place in the NFC East. They have missed the playoffs four straight seasons and have finished with a losing record in three straight. The Eagles (7-9) finished in second place behind the Redskins (9-7).
After trying to keep mum on the subject of Coughlin all week, the Giants no longer could hold their tongues in the postgame locker room.
“It’s kind of hard to not think about it,” Amukamara said. “Everyone in this room has tried real hard to not talk about it, but there were kind of like subliminal messages [between us]. ‘We know who we’re playing this game for.’ I’m sure everyone feels like they let that person down.”
“He’s such a professional, such a great coach, that there was no sense of anything that he’s going through,” center Weston Richburg said. “I think that’s why he’s one of the best, he focuses on what’s important . . . I wouldn’t be able to do it. That’s the guy’s livelihood that he put on the back burner for us. It was all about the team, and that’s really admirable.”
There were some who wanted Coughlin to do otherwise this week. They wanted him — or the organization — to announce a decision that would end his tenure to allow Sunday to be more of a celebration of the coach, his two Super Bowls, and his accomplishments with the team.
That’s not Coughlin, though.
“I don’t think it needs to happen right now or before [the game] or at any time,” linebacker Mark Herzlich said of turning the game into a bit of a retirement party. “I think he’s going to be celebrated for many, many years around this organization. We have eternity to do that.”