The Giants endured “trash bag day” for the third time in four seasons, still searching for reasons why they’ve underachieved yet again.
Head coach Tom Coughlin was still perplexed one day after their season-finale win over the Eagles. But the usually gruff head coach was earnest in saying he’ll spend the entire offseason trying to figure out how to avoid the ignominy of ending the season with unfulfilled expectations.
“To be 9-7, yes, it’s much better than 8-8, no question about it. [But] it’s not good enough and I think all of our players are very much aware of that. Our goal was obviously to get into the tournament, [but] we didn’t get to the tournament, so we’re disappointed in that,” Coughlin said, comparing current emotions to last year’s. “I don’t like exit meetings and saying goodbye. A year ago, we walked from the last exit meeting to get on a bus to go to the Canyon of Heroes parade. That’s kind of where we are emotionally. It’s not an easy day, under any circumstances. … To not be in the playoffs is certainly not what we would’ve expected.”
Last season’s Super Bowl run aside, Big Blue has underachieved down the stretch in five of Coughlin’s nine seasons as head coach. It seems as if every year the Giants are starting the season 5-2 or 6-3, only to either limp into the postseason or miss it altogether.
As much leeway as he’s earned, even Coughlin knows that floundering in crucial spots again next year shouldn’t be tolerated, and he noted he’s already begun preliminary work on building for the 2013 season.
“We’re jumping into the process of evaluation,” Coughlin said. “The losing part is hard, very hard, [and] it gets harder and harder, I think, the older that you get. … The losing part is very difficult to get over, [but] as I’m standing right here, if they’ll have me [back].”
The man who’ll have a say in Coughlin’s future, general manager Jerry Reese, agreed with his coach’s assertion that 9-7 won’t cut it — even if that same record got them into the playoffs last season. Still, everyone expects Coughlin to return. Reese sounded dismayed recalling past seasons when Big Blue lived on the edge of playoff contention, instead of just qualifying outright.
“It’s very frustrating when you see us play very well at some point during the season and then at other times we don’t play very well. It’s a head scratcher for me, the head coach and for everybody in the organization,” Reese said. “Why can’t we be more consistent and play at a high level every week? … We don’t get paid to go 9-7. We got away with that last year, but sometimes 10 wins doesn’t even get you in either, [like] the Bears go 10-6 [this year] and they don’t get in, [and] a couple years ago we go 10-6 and we didn’t get in the playoffs. But again, we set the bar very high here and we didn’t get the job done.”
Criticism aside, Reese, like Coughlin, still believes his team isn’t far off from being Super Bowl contenders again.
“I don’t think we’re that far off, to be honest with you. This team will look different next year, but I think we’ll have a good core of players coming back. We’ll see what we can do in free agency, and of course, we always have the draft,” Reese said. “We’ll start rebuilding a team and the evaluation process has started already. We’ll put our heads together and we let our emotions die down a little bit and really step back and see what happened. … There are 20 other teams having this same conversation right now, and unfortunately it’s not unique to us.”
Big Blue notes
»Defensive end Justin Tuck acknowledged he didn’t have a great season, and has underachieved the last two seasons, but said he still feels like he has “five, six good years left in me. … I won’t be one of those guys to hang around and collect a paycheck. When that time comes I’ll know it, and will go right upstairs to Jerry’s office and gracefully bow out.”
» Reese said he agreed that Tuck hasn’t played up to standards, but didn’t want to just single out his defensive captain: “Justin has been a good player for a long time for us. Obviously he didn’t play as good as he wanted to play and as good as we wanted him to play, but it’s not just Justin. I don’t think you single anybody out. Here with the Giants, we win as a team and we lose as a team. … But he wanted to play better, [and] we wanted him to play better. He’s not getting any younger, but I think he’s got a lot of tread left on his tires and we expect him to come back and be the Justin Tuck we know.”
Reese noted that when the time comes to make tough decisions on guys like Tuck, there won’t be a lot of emotion tied into his decisions: “It’s never personal. We evaluate everybody, [and] there’s going to be changes every year. It’s part of the business, [even though] that’s probably the hardest part of my job to tell people like David Tyree or Amani Toomer that we’re going in a different direction. But ultimately that’s what I have to do, and when it’s time to move on from players and go a different direction, we have to do that.”
»The Giants have 23 players who will be free agents next season — either unrestricted (free to go anywhere else) or restricted (the Giants would have the chance to match any offer). But Reese said he’s confident he’ll get the main guys re-signed: “It’s a pretty big number, but nothing we can’t handle.”
»One of those free agents is tight end Martellus Bennett. The former Cowboys’ reserved flourished this season as a first-time starting tight end. But with his solid year (55 catches, 626 yards and five touchdowns), the unrestricted free agent may be a sought after commodity on the open market. Reese said it’s Bennett’s right to shop his services and wasn’t ready to show the Giants’ negotiating hand just yet: “[Bennett leaving for nothing] can happen, absolutely. Guys are free to shop themselves on the market, and all players like to get to free agency. We’re in the evaluation process, so we’ll see how it plays out.”
»Defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who just completed his 10th season with the Giants, said last week that he understands the common thought that he’ll play elsewhere next season. Reese, though, wouldn’t show his hand on that subject either, instead praising his oft-controversial pass rusher: “The evaluation process will take care of itself. Osi has been a terrific player for us. He’s one of my all-time favorite players in the National Football League. Not just for the Giants. I was happy to see him stay healthy this season and when he’s a healthy guy, he’s another guy that has some tread left on his tires. He’s still got a lot of football left in him.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.