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Lifeless loss may force Giants into tough decision on Tom Coughlin

MINNEAPOLIS -- First of all, the New York Giants aren't going to "fire" Tom Coughlin. A firing is punitive, angry and rash. When the time comes for the Giants to move on from Coughlin, whether it's next week, next year or a few years down the road, they'll do it with the care and respect a coach with two Super Bowl wins on his résumé deserves.

Second, Coughlin doesn't deserve to be fired next week. The roster with which his front office has saddled him is not one that could have reasonably been expected to make the playoffs or have a winning season. Of the 46 players who played for the Giants in Sunday night's embarrassing 49-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, eight have spent time on their practice squad this year, and three others were street free agents the team signed since the bye week.

However, both of those things said, the past couple of weeks have been tough ones for those making the case to keep Coughlin. And however much respect and love the Giants' owners have for him, and wherever they decide the blame for their current predicament lies, the Mara and Tisch families may finally be at a point where it makes sense to make a change they've dreaded having to make for a long time.

"I just look at it as, if I was running a company and things weren't going the way I wanted them to go, of course I would think I had to make changes," Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara said after the game, in response to a question about whether he was aware of the outside chatter about Coughlin's job security. "I don't know what those changes are, and I'm glad I don't have to make them for the Giants. But I'm a firm believer that the Maras, the Tisches and [GM Jerry] Reese are going to do what's best for the Giants."

Amukamara wasn't arguing for a change at head coach. Quite the contrary, in fact. Like the majority of the players in the locker room, Amukamara loves Coughlin and doesn't want to see him go. But Amukamara, who himself is eligible for free agency after the season and unsure whether he'll be back, was articulating the general sense in the locker room right now that change may be coming whether anyone wants it or not.

"We all love him and hope to see him wherever we are," linebacker Mark Herzlich said of Coughlin. "Wherever I am, I'd love to play for him."

The Giants have missed the playoffs for the fourth year in a row and the sixth out of the past seven. Sunday's loss ensures a third straight losing season -- something that has not befallen this franchise since it racked up eight straight losing seasons from 1973 to 1980. Those were dark times for the Giants, whose past two generations of fans have not known years so lean. In that context, an owner can surely look at the big picture and decide a major change is necessary.

But the smaller picture isn't doing Coughlin any favors right now. We know all about the clock-management issues from earlier this year, but even through those you could still confidently say Coughlin's team was prepared and fighting hard every week. Last week, though, his inability to get control of the Odell Beckham Jr. situation made him look like a coach who was out of touch with what was going on and what needed to be done. Then Sunday, without Beckham and after being eliminated from the playoffs by Washington's victory the night before, the Giants played their worst and most pathetic-looking game of the year.

"I didn't see that coming," Coughlin said.

Which is the worst thing any head coach can say about his team, and yet another marker that makes this "speculation season" (as Herzlich called it) feel different than others have felt.

"I'm not worried about that. I'm really not," Coughlin said. "That'll all take care of itself. I don't coach worried about that."

Asked if he believed he'd been provided with the necessary talent to win, Coughlin said, "I'm not going down that road."

He sounded, a bit, like a man who might be resigned to his fate. Or one who might be about to decide he doesn't want to do this anymore. I can't say for sure and I'm not in his head, but one way or the other, you do get the sense that something is coming to an end here. Could that end come as soon as next week, when the season ends and the powers that be make their decisions? Even in the locker room, it doesn't seem to feel as inconceivable as it used to feel.

"I think, if you look at what he did all year and the way he's coached this team, it speaks for itself," left guard Justin Pugh said. "I know when I look back, I'm going to know I played for one of the best coaches of all time -- a Hall of Famer."

"I love Coach Coughlin, and I know how he gets us ready to play," Amukamara said. "I just feel embarrassed because we went out and did this under his watch."

In the end, this has all happened on Coughlin's watch. Two Super Bowl titles, yes, but also four years in a row and six out of seven without the playoffs. It's not all his fault by any means. This year, there's really not a lot more he could have been expected to do. But when you don't win in the NFL, things change, and tough decisions have to be made. The Giants may have reached that point.