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Picking Up the Pieces of the Meadowlands Meltdown

Despite Sunday's disaster, the Giants control their own destiny

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    Sometimes falling feels like flying, which might be why the true extent of what transpired at the Meadowlands on Sunday afternoon didn't hit until some time after DeSean Jackson wrote his name in indelible ink in the Giants' history books.

    It was so exciting that some of the magnitude of the failure was lost in the process.

    The Eagles come back from 31-10 down with eight minutes to play to win a game 38-31 without the help of any turnovers from the Giants. They did it by gaining 220 yards, not counting Jackson's high-wire act, after gaining only 198 yards to that point. The Giants allowed an onside kick, they allowed Michael Vick to be Michael Vick, they couldn't sustain an offensive drive when they needed to and, of course, they didn't kick a punt out of bounds. 

    You can sit there and blame the Giants kick return team for not paying enough attention or the punt coverage team for breaking contain when Jackson bobbled the ball on the fateful punt. You can blame the Giants defensive linemen for overpursuing Vick and giving him huge rushing lanes or the offensive linemen for not grinding out yards to run out the clock. You can certainly blame Matt Dodge for not being a NFL-caliber player. In short, every single member of the Giants played a role in letting this one slip away.  

    No one bears more of the blame than Tom Coughlin, though. No, he can't run the ball, sack Vick or punt the ball, but for the improbability of everything that went on during Sunday's collapse there was still an air of familiarity hanging over the proceedings.

    Coughlin's era as Giants coach will always be associated with two things. The Super Bowl victory, obviously, and almost annual meltdowns that baffle those who have seen the Giants achieve great things in other spots. Usually they are spread out over several weeks, but the Eagles game felt like a microcosm of all those other meltdowns. They quit on him in the fourth quarter in exactly the same way they quit on him in 2009 and no one can understand why or how that happens.

    Coughlin's comments after the game only cemented that feeling. Coughlin said that the players on the kick return team were warned about the onside kick and Dodge was told to kick out of bounds, but they simply didn't execute. It's the kind of thing Coughlin has said over and over through the years and there's really never been a good explanation for why his players seem to fail to execute fairly simple instructions in big moments of the game.

    It's possible Dodge, in particular, isn't able to execute at the needed level, but Coughlin has sat there all season and accepted his mediocrity. Hard to watch him sit there and glorify himself by yelling at Dodge -- who should never have been put in that spot -- on the field when you know the full history, but, then, Coughlin has always been willing to make a spectacle of himself on the sideline with his histrionic reactions to his players failing to execute his sparkling game plans. It's always someone making Coughlin's life miserable with very little in the way of introspection since the well-publicized change of form before the Super Bowl year.

    That's why part of the fallout for Sunday might wind up being Coughlin himself. At 64, Coughlin's closer to the end than the beginning. It's impossible to see him back if the Giants don't make the playoffs, not with this loss looming as the biggest reason why they'd be out. Even if they do squeak in, he's got one year left on his contract and it is hard to imagine the Giants would send him out there as a lame duck next season to fight for his job. It's just as hard to imagine that they'd give him a long extension after the way the last three seasons have played out.

    A big playoff run changes the equation, obviously, and that's the lone piece of good news for the Giants at this hour. Win next week in Green Bay, and you're in the playoffs with a chance to make a lot of noise. Predicting whether this loss will cause a hangover or an aggressive reaction is a fool's errand, so better to just state the facts of the situation and see how the Giants respond.

    It won't be easy to pull off that victory, but it wasn't easy to pull off yesterday's loss. The point? Nothing's impossible with these Giants.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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