How familiar this must all seem for Tom Coughlin.
He is facing a Week 17 trip to Washington to play the Redskins with a potential playoff spot on the line after his Giants squandered their superior playoff position in two embarassing December losses. He was in the exact same boat during the 2006 season and Tiki Barber, of all people, saved Coughlin's job with 234 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
He is facing questions about a second half meltdown from a 6-2 record for the second straight season and, for the third straight year, he's left wondering how a team as talented as these Giants can fall apart so completely in the season's most important stretch of games. Coughlin didn't have any answers to what happened in 2008 or 2009, and he doesn't seem to have any in the wake of watching his team give up 73 points over the last 68 minutes of football.
That's a big reason why this week will be dominated by discussion about Coughlin's future -- or lack thereof -- as coach of the Giants. Plenty of people will argue that Coughlin is as good or better than any potential coaching candidates, including Bill Cowher, and, should they win in Washington, those people will also ask how you can fire a coach who wins 10 games in the NFL regardless of whether or not that results in a playoff spot.
The first argument is a strong one. Coughlin is a very good coach whose resume stands up very well against that of any person on the market. Unless the Giants want to go with a first-time head coach, it makes little sense to choose a retread of the same stock. That said, winning a Super Bowl is not the football equivalent of an appointment to the Supreme Court. The Giants need to move forward, whether it is with Coughlin or someone else.
The second argument doesn't hold much water, however. Winning 10 games and falling short of the playoffs doesn't make you a bad coach, but it doesn't make you a good one either. There are different sets of criteria for making the playoffs every year and it is up to the coach to meet them. The argument is especially weak in light of the way the Giants have flopped in the last two games when that 10th win would have brought them everything they wanted. Again, Coughlin is a very good coach but he's in a tough spot that he did an awful lot to help create.
We all know that the Giants ownership loathes making changes. Jim Fassel and Dan Reeves were both kept at least one year too long in the name of stability, so that provides Coughlin some decent cover for another year that crashes and burns outside the playoffs. At some point, though, there has to be some accountability for what's gone wrong. The same mistakes keep happening, the same lack of intensity keeps sinking the team and the Giants keep getting annhilated whenever they face a good team or play an especially meaningful game.
On the one hand, that makes for an easy decision. Coughlin has to go if the Giants can't beat the lowly Redskins because it's clear neither he nor his team can find the right answers any longer. It's more difficult if they beat the Redskins, regardless of whether they wind up in the playoffs, but it's pretty clear that the Coughlin era can't survive many more Sundays like the last two.