EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Led by their head coach's postgame monologue, the New York Giants claimed to have been the best team on the field Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. But they were also the dumbest team, which undermined any positives in a 29-10 loss to the Titans that puts them in a 1-2 hole.
We've told ourselves since the 2007 Super Bowl season that Tom Coughlin's teams don't beat themselves, but that's exactly what happened Sunday. The Giants appear to be one of the most undisciplined teams in the league, although it's progress that no helmets made their way into the stands. Of course, that didn't keep the Giants from losing their heads.
Quarterback Eli Manning set the tone early with what may have been the most clueless decision of his career. A brilliant throw down the seam to tight end Kevin Boss for 54 yards gave the Giants a first-and-goal on the Titans' 9-yard line midway through the first quarter. On third down from the 2-yard line, Manning tried to escape pressure before inexplicably lobbing the ball into the end zone with his left hand. Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon tipped the weakly thrown pass and cornerback Jason McCourty made a diving interception.
The Giants' benevolence in the red zone would continue, but it was the utter lack of composure that brought back Terrible Tom's sideline act. Through the magic of film, players and coaches had noticed how the Titans liked to play through the whistle. They shouldn't have been surprised that cornerback Cortland Finnegan, one of the most underrated players in the league, likes to add an extra shove or a few choice words following plays. Yet the Giants retaliated time after time, leading to six personal fouls, two of which were called on veteran right tackle Kareem McKenzie.
When McKenzie was flagged for his second unnecessary roughness penalty in the fourth quarter, Coughlin stormed down the sideline and told offensive line coach Pat Flaherty to find an immediate replacement. Former Eagles Pro Bowler Shawn Andrews came jogging onto the field and played the rest of the way. On the Titans' ensuing possession, Coughlin yanked safety Antrel Rolle from the field for drawing another 15-yard penalty for taking a swipe at tight end Craig Stevens after the whistle. Rolle complained last week that Coughlin pulled players off at a road game too early. Rolle said he wasn't provided with an explanation for his early departure, but I'm sure the coaches will accommodate him soon.
"I got struck twice, and I struck back," said Rolle. "There was no explanation about it. I’m a ballplayer, and that means I’m fiery. He struck me twice, and I definitely struck him back. I wasn’t ejected, but the coaches pulled me out probably to calm me down. I understand that. It’s a game of emotions. That guy took two strikes at me, and I made sure I struck him back."
Rolle admitted that he made a mistake, but he seemed to stand by his retribution. I wouldn't blame Coughlin if he benched both Rolle and McKenzie next week. During a postgame news conference that was held in clear sight of some boisterous Giants fans, Coughlin took full responsibility for the red zone turnovers and personal fouls.
"The way in which we play in between the lines is my responsibility and I’m taking full responsibility for that," said Coughlin. "This is a game that we should have won, we didn’t win."
Told that Coughlin had taken the blame for the all the personal fouls, defensive end Justin Tuck told a small group of reporters, "That's horse [expletive]! That's an individual penalty, not a coach's penalty."
Even with all the mistakes, the Giants had an opportunity to get back in the game late in the third quarter. Ahmad Bradshaw had gashed the Titans for runs of 22 and 20 yards on a drive to set up a first-and-goal from the 6-yard line. On the next play, Titans safety Michael Griffin poked the ball out of Bradshaw's arms and the Titans recovered to maintain a 19-10 lead.
The two red zone turnovers and six personal fouls undermined a strong performance by the defense against Titans All-Pro running back Chris Johnson, who tacked on a 42-yard gain after the game had been decided. The Giants outgained the Titans by a staggering 200 yards but it didn't matter because of 11 penalties and three turnovers.
It was a completely different feeling from the whipping they took from the Colts last week, but the result was the same. Even in the watered-down NFC East, the Giants are already in trouble. They have the same 1-2 record as the Dallas Cowboys, but those teams had much different experiences Sunday. The Cowboys' win over the Texans could serve as a springboard for a quick turnaround, while the Giants will host a Bears team next Sunday night that could potentially be 3-0.
This season is already on the brink, and you could say the same thing about Coughlin's future as head coach. He talks about always putting the team first, but several individuals made a joke of that concept in Sunday's loss. The fact that most of those players are veterans has to be the most galling part for Coughlin.
"I’m disappointed that it comes at all, that it comes from our team because, as I said, it’ll be very, very difficult to win football games under those circumstances," said Coughlin.