Tom Coughlin's likely swan song came with everything but the win

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There were 28 seconds left on the clock Sunday afternoon when Eli Manning's fourth-down pass fell incomplete and the Eagles took over on downs. New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin let his gaze linger for a moment, then he took off his headset, made sure his blue "NY" baseball cap was straight and waited for the season's final snap. He stared straight ahead as Sam Bradford knelt and the referee whistled, then he bowed his head, made the sign of the cross and jogged to the middle of the field to shake the hand of Pat Shurmur, the man who'd replaced fired Eagles coach Chip Kelly just five days earlier.

From there, Coughlin led a crush of cameras and security guards to the tunnel that leads from the MetLife Stadium field to the Giants' locker room. As he passed under the overhang, he raised his arm in salute to the fans there cheering for him. They applauded. One shouted, "Good job, Tom!" He disappeared into the tunnel.

Nothing special about any of that, except for the nagging sense in the building that it was probably the final time he would do any of it as the Giants' coach. Other than that, it was the same as any other week.

"It's kind of hard not to think about it," cornerback Prince Amukamara said after the 35-30 loss. "Everyone in this room has tried not to think about it, but it's kind of like subliminal messages, 'You know who we're playing this game for,' and everyone in this room feels like we let that person down."

These are the facts of the Coughlin case as we know them right now, according to various sources with knowledge of the situation:

  • Coughlin met Sunday morning with Giants GM Jerry Reese, who told Coughlin he loved him and always would, but that he didn't know what would happen.

  • Giants ownership is scheduled to meet Monday morning, and in that meeting, John Mara, Steve Tisch, et al., will discuss what to do about Coughlin and the coaching staff, among other things.

  • Coughlin has mulled the possibility of walking away on his own, but he's concerned about the fate of his assistant coaches and wants to know what will become of them before he does that.

  • Coughlin's entire extended family was on hand for Sunday's game, including 11 grandchildren decked out in blue hoodies with their names on the back and "Coughlin's Crew" in red letters on the front. And while Coughlin downplayed that and said everyone was in town for their annual holiday dinner, he spent a lot of time with them all in the back of the news conference room after he was done with the media, and there were many hugs shared and tears shed before the group broke up.

"You've got your questions prepared for what direction I'm going in, but I'm not going to answer anything about that," Coughlin said a short time earlier in his postgame remarks. "The season just ended. There will be time for that."

It isn't likely to take much time, and given the vibe around the team right now, it would be surprising to see Coughlin back next year. He's coached the Giants for 12 years and won two Super Bowls, so if he is done, his exit is likely to be handled with class and dignity. But he's had three straight losing seasons and missed the playoffs in six of his past seven, which means a change isn't a ridiculous idea no matter how decorated his résumé is.

"We wanted to go out there, we wanted to win, we wanted to play well," said Manning, who has never played for any other NFL head coach. "He's had a great attitude all week and that attitude is contagious to the players. Guys wanted to go out there and play well, play hard and get this win and I thought we had a great effort. Just couldn't put it together."

We'll find out in the coming days what happens next for Coughlin and for the Giants. But it's worth noting that if this was his last game, he did it his way. He kept the focus on the game, on the opponent. He told his players all week to focus and prepare as intently as they have all season. He gathered them after the game the way he always does, broke down some key points from the game, leading them in the Lord's Prayer and breaking with all hands in and an exclamation of "Team!" Everything went the way he wanted it to go except for the part where his brutally undermanned defense couldn't make the plays and the Eagles' defense turned the game with a long touchdown.

"No one has decided anything," Coughlin said, and that may or may not be true when it comes to whether he wants to come back or even has the choice. But it's clear that Coughlin himself decided, if this was the end, that it would be on his terms. That he would have the week and the day the way he wanted it, aside from the result, which he obviously couldn't control.

"If I could play, I would play," Coughlin said. "But I can't play."

His team couldn't play well enough to make the playoffs when they likely had to do so to save his job. What happens from here on out is almost certainly not in Coughlin's control. But the way he approached and handled Sunday was, and in the end that's probably as solid a punctuation mark as he could have put on one of the most decorated careers in Giants history.