- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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This week's "NFL Nation Says" feature polled players around the league on the best way to handle a sideline rant the likes of the one the Cowboys' Dez Bryant put on Sunday. And while there isn't an exact parallel here, this whole thing has me thinking about the New York Giants and the way they have handled adversity during a 2-6 first half that began with an incomprehensible six-game losing streak.
My thought has to do with this meeting the Giants' defensive players say they had a few weeks back with defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, in which they say they offered suggestions on how to simplify things and perhaps play better. We didn't find out about the meeting until weeks after it happened, and after the Giants' defense did start to play better. And when we did find out, it was in a matter-of-fact way, with the Giants' players and coaches willingly discussing it because there was nothing to hide. No one snapped at anyone on the sideline or cursed out a coach in public or in private. The meeting was a case of grown men acting like grown men toward each other -- of a group of people understanding the best way to solve a problem was to work together toward their common goal of getting better, and doing so in a professional way.
"The only thing I make of it is people trying to be the best they can be," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Monday when asked about that meeting. "And the honesty, the openness about being able to discuss those kinds of things with your coach, and the coach making a very serious attempt, without putting us in a position where we're not going enough, to do some things to help simplify."
In other words, Fewell wasn't going to just give the players everything they wanted. But he was willing to listen to their suggestions, since they were being offered as constructive criticism and an effort to make everyone (including him!) better. This sounds like a simple concept, but too often we see it go the other way, so it's worth pointing out instances in which adversity is handled the way everyone would prefer it be handled.
Even the Giants haven't been immune to slip-ups on this front, if you recall the 2009 season in which the defense quite obviously quit on short-time defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. But in general, the tone Coughlin sets as head coach lends itself to an atmosphere of professionalism and accountability, where blame isn't the priority and emotions tend to make their way through the proper channels. If part of the point of the Bryant story is that there was a time and a place to voice his concerns and that wasn't it, the Giants' meeting story would seem to stand as an example of what that right time and place might look like.
Coughlin and his coaches haven't had any kind of great season, don't get me wrong. The team ranks among the league leaders in penalties, and coaches and players alike have made some questionable in-game decisions during the rotten start. But through it all, the locker room has remained upbeat and professional. The leaders have stayed strong and encouraging. They have handled the tough time the way every coach wishes its team would but many don't.