The Giants Move From Frying Pan to Fire

No distractions mean all eyes on Tom Coughlin's team

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    There aren't many times that a New York football team could get thumped for three straight weeks and barely raise an eyebrow from the hordes of media in our fair city. Unfortunately for Tom Coughlin and the Giants, the Yankees wrapped up their season on Wednesday night. That means that there's no bigger story, or even a Jets game, to serve as a distraction from the mess that's been unfolding for Big Blue entering as they prepare for a critical game against the Chargers.

    There's no way to soft pedal the importance of this Sunday's game for the Giants. The last three weeks have seen almost no positives in any phase of the game. The schedule got tougher and the Giants promptly fell apart, a scary state of affairs for a team that was expected to challenge for the NFC East title at the very least. Another loss will leave the Giants will be 5-4 entering the bye with no help on the horizon in terms of the roster or the schedule.

    Coughlin isn't blind to what's on the line on Sunday at the Meadowlands. He's calling it a "one-game season" and called on the team's leaders to fix what's wrong with the team.

    "Leaders are lifters," Coughlin said. "Normally what has to happen when a team does fight their way out of a problem, your best players have to show the way. The guys that are in the role of a foot-soldier, they will play and they will work their tails off. But what ultimately shows is when the guys that are recognized as your quality football players, they have to play themselves into a position where they are showing the way."

    Two of those leaders, Eli Manning and Antonio Pierce, are singing the same tune, which is important. The message of even the best coaches can become stale over a long period of time, but that doesn't appear to be a problem with the Giants. That's good, because those issues can't be solved with tired war metaphors and speeches about leadership.

    It's also bad, however, because it leaves a question about the talent level. That wasn't something that remotely worried the team entering the season, they were crowing about how deep they were to be honest, but it hasn't manifested itself on the field when faced with other talented teams. The defense looks especially vulnerable, especially to teams that have the kind of speed and athleticism that the Chargers will bring with them from California.

    Is that vulnerability an issue of talent or is new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan struggling in his transition to the top spot? Is Manning hurt, slumping or a victim of a diminished supporting cast? Two good questions and the fate of the season will be decided by Coughlin's ability to answer them.

    Funnily enough, that's the best bit of news for the Giants. Coughlin has faced down more than one season on the brink since taking over the job and he's pushed the right buttons to keep his team from falling apart. If his luck doesn't run out, the Giants' season still holds promise. It ain't much to bank on, but it's just about all the Giants have going for them right now.  

    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.