The title defense was not supposed to go like this.
Tom Coughlin was hoping that his team would be hitting its stride and preparing for perhaps a repeat run heading into its season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Instead, Coughlin finds himself challenging his team to show some "pride" and the New York Giants find themselves desperately searching for answers why they let the NFC East and control of their playoff fate slip away so easily.
"There's not going to be any satisfactory answer, no matter what I say," Coughlin said. "We need some real soul searching, not only by me, but by the people in that locker room."
If the Giants don't sneak into the playoffs on Sunday, they'll have an entire offseason to self-evaluate. They'll surely try to make sense of why they were embarrassed in Atlanta and Baltimore by a combined 67-14 score, and how they let everything go awry.
There's still a sliver of hope that they can turn things around. Clinging to slim playoff hopes, the Giants need a win against Philadelphia and losses by Dallas, Minnesota and Chicago to get into the postseason.
Coughlin has asked his team to show some "pride, honor, dignity" against the Eagles.
But how did it get to this point? How did a defending Super Bowl champion come to a point where its head coach was pleading with his players to just show some pride?
"Honestly man, I don't know," defensive captain Justin Tuck said. "I think a lot of times I sit here in front of you all and I try to BS an answer to you when I don't know. But I can be honest with you and say I don't know."
Unless the Giants (8-7) somehow squeeze their way into the playoffs and start another magical run to the Super Bowl, general manager Jerry Reese likely will be making some changes in the offseason. Soul searching can often lead to house cleaning.
There should be some alterations to an offense and defense that has vanished in recent weeks.
"Of course," running back Ahmad Bradshaw said. "There's going to be a lot of guys that's gone next year and, you just never know who's going to be going. It could be me. It could be anybody."
The opponent on the other sideline Sunday faces even more uncertainty. This could be the final game with the Eagles for head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Michael Vick.
The Eagles (4-11) have lost 10 of their last 11 games since beating the Giants at the end of September.
Reid has beaten the Giants in eight of the past nine meetings and surely the Eagles will want to send him out in style if they can.
And if trying to beat the Eagles, complete with a fresh and motivated Vick, isn't difficult enough, the Giants also have to find a way to overcome their own worst enemy: themselves.
The Giants know what they are capable of accomplishing after dominating the likes of San Francisco and Green Bay this season. But that confident team has disappeared.
Coughlin and the players say they have not seen any quit.
"We're not defeated," safety Antrel Rolle insisted. "We're going to find a lot about a lot of guys in this locker room based off this game. I think we're going to speak a lot for the kind of caliber guys we have in this locker room."
Most of the players, though, looked and sounded like they were resigned to the fact that they will not be in the playoffs one year after winning it all.
There was plenty of uncertainty as to how different the locker room may be next year if the team falls well short of expectations.
"Definitely," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said of possible changes coming next season. "But where are they going to make the changes is the question.
"There's nowhere that was up to the standards that we set last year," Umenyiora continued. "If they're going to be making changes, it has to be wholesale changes. Everybody has to leave. There has to be changes for everybody because nobody played above average this year."
For Tuck, Sunday is perhaps one final chance this season for these Giants to show they still have the heart of a champion.
"It will be so easy to see -- our pride will be on showcase on Sunday," Tuck said. "It will be easy for you to tell, it will be easy for anyone to tell if it's there or not."