To watch¬†NewYork Giants coach Tom Coughlin on the sideline against Dallas on Sunday was tosee a man repeatedly bouncing back and forth between joy and despair--in short,a microcosm of his season. Coughlin's smile was suddenly replaced by a grimacewhen rookie defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka intercepted a first-quarter Dallaspass only to fumble, without being touched, on the return. Late in the game thecoach clapped with joy when Plaxico Burress's touchdown tied the game, only toslump his shoulders a minute later when Martin Gramatica booted thegame-winning 46-yard field goal with a second left.
A win could haveexorcised many of the Giants' demons--injuries, discord, on-field disasters.Instead, New York is two games behind 8--4 Dallas in the NFC East, hoping todraw a wild card. "It's not dire," Coughlin said of his team's future."We're going to stick together."
The next testcomes on Sunday, at Carolina. Here's how the season unraveled.
SEPT. 17 Afterlosing to Indianapolis in the opener, the Giants give up 24 straight points atPhiladelphia to trail 24--7 in the fourth quarter. But Eli Manning sparks afurious rally. A field goal with seven seconds left ties the game, andManning's 31-yard toss to wideout Burress in OT wins it. "I saw a littleglimpse of New York Giants pride in that second half," said Coughlin.
SEPT. 25 There isno comeback in Seattle--and little Giants pride on display--as New York loses42--30. "We were outplayed and outcoached," tight end Jeremy Shockeytells reporters. The next day Coughlin calls Shockey's take "extremelydisappointing," and Manning delivers a rare rebuke, calling the outburst"unacceptable." Shockey expresses regret.
OCT. 18 The NewYork Times reports that All-Pro running back Tiki Barber will likely retireafter the season. A number of media pundits label Barber a quitter. He firesback on his satellite radio show, calling the critics "idiots."
OCT. 23 A 36--22win in Dallas is a Pyrrhic victory. Linebacker LaVar Arrington ruptures hisAchilles tendon, ending his season, and defensive end Osi Umenyiora suffers ahip-flexor injury that will knock him out for five games.
NOV. 5 Moreinjuries. In a win over Houston, defensive end Michael Strahan suffers a footsprain that puts him out for at least four games. Three days later the clubannounces that veteran wideout Amani Toomer will miss the rest of the seasonwith a knee injury.
NOV. 12 New Yorkloses 38--20 to Chicago in Manning's worst game of the season. Starting lefttackle Luke Petitgout breaks his leg.
NOV. 22 AfterBarber carries just 10 times for 27 yards in a 26--10 loss to Jacksonville, hechides the staff for not calling more running plays. "It's not rocketscience," he says. "I felt insignificant." Coughlin calls aclosed-door meeting.
NOV. 26 TheGiants blow a 21--0 fourth-quarter lead at Tennessee. Mathias Kiwanuka wraps upquarterback Vince Young on fourth-and-10 but lets go, and Young scrambles 19yards to set up the tying touchdown. Then, with 32 seconds left, Manning's wildtoss is intercepted, leading to the winning 49-yard field goal. "We'regoing to be sick about this forever," says Coughlin, who ignores his ruleagainst finger-pointing and excoriates Manning and Kiwanuka.
NOV. 27 On theday of a players-only meeting, Strahan rips Burress on a local radio show forletting up on a Manning pass that the Titans intercepted: "You can't quit,because you're not quitting on yourself, you're quitting on us."
NOV. 29 An ESPNreporter relays Strahan's remarks to Burress during an interview in the Giants'locker room. Minutes later Strahan calls out the reporter--"I want to seeyour face!"--and unleashes a harangue against the media.
NOV. 30 Strahanand Burress meet, and the Giants blame the media for stirring up trouble.Players leaving the field after practice sing Twisted Sister's We're Not GonnaTake It. Coughlin, more prosaic, says to reporters, "The more you attack,the better off I think they'll be and they'll come together."
DEC. 4 The NewYork Post contemplates the coach's future after the loss to Dallas. Headline:ANOTHER NAIL IN THE COUGHLIN.
Barber (21) and the Giants are finding it hard to hold on.