NFL Nation: Tom Coughlin

Eagles vs. Giants preview

December, 26, 2014
Dec 26

The last time the Philadelphia Eagles played a game without playoff implications, it was the tail end of the 2012 season and Andy Reid was still their coach. For the New York Giants, Sunday's 1 p.m. ET regular-season finale against the Eagles at MetLife Stadium will be the fifth consecutive game in which both they and their opponent have already been eliminated from postseason contention. Nothing on the line here but pride for these division rivals. ESPN NFL Nation reporters Dan Graziano and Phil Sheridan are here to break it all down for you.

Graziano: Well, that fell apart in a hurry. Three weeks ago, the Eagles were in the NFC East driver’s seat. Now, Sunday’s game means nothing more to their playoff chances than it does to the Giants’ playoff chances. What’s the biggest reason for the collapse?

Sheridan: I’ve had a little time to ponder this and I think it’s relatively simple. The Eagles were not an elite team this year. They were pretty good, able to compete within the NFC East and against St. Louis and Jacksonville and such squads. But every time they had to face a playoff-caliber team -- Arizona, San Francisco (before their fall), Green Bay -- they lost.

That big Thanksgiving Day win in Dallas created the illusion that the Eagles had hit their stride. But Seattle brought them right back to reality. Seattle simply beat them up the way superior teams beat average teams.

The two most recent losses, to Dallas and Washington, were due to factors that have lingered all season for the Eagles. Turnovers? They lead the league in giving the ball away. Red zone? Break out the rookie place-kicker. Pass defense? Er, next question.

Early in the season, the Eagles got a bunch of touchdowns from their defense and special teams. That was a tough way to win, and it dried up on them against the better teams.

The Giants were 3-9 when the Eagles were 9-3. The Eagles haven’t won since, the Giants haven't lost since. Is that just late-season, no-pressure-to-win stat-padding, or have the Giants really turned things around? Put another way: Is this something they can carry over to 2015?

Graziano: They think it is, which I think is important, considering how young the players are who are contributing to this run. The schedule has helped, of course. The Giants' three-game winning streak is against Tennessee, Washington and St. Louis. But the Rams were playing defense as well as anyone in the league coming into Sunday, and the Giants dropped 37 points on them. So something is going right. Rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham is the superstar, but rookie Andre Williams has two 100-yard rushing games in the past three weeks, rookies Devon Kennard and Kerry Wynn are contributing on special teams. Add in strong late surges from cornerstone players in quarterback Eli Manning and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and the Giants are on the kind of roll that means nothing to this year but could, they hope, give them some confidence going into the offseason that they're on the right track for 2015. The offense has definitely shown progress since Week 1, and in the first year with a new coordinator, that's one of the biggest things for which the Giants were hoping.

Hey, Mark Sanchez is back in his old stomping grounds this week. Am I safe in assuming the Eagles go into this offseason with quarterback high on their priority list? Or do they expect/want Nick Foles to come back and win the job?

Sheridan: You’d be safe in that assumption if I were the general manager or head coach. As for Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly, I’m not sure how they view this. I think it will be a little bit of a Rorschach test: What they see when they look at Foles will tell a lot about them.

If they blame the collapse on Mark Sanchez and his 13 turnovers in eight games, that will mean they choose to overlook Foles’ 13 turnovers in his eight games. It’s a shame, really, that Foles wasn’t cleared to play in time to get one or two more games in. It would have helped the evaluation process to see him behind the relatively healthy version of the offensive line. It was banged up when he was playing (which is one reason he ended up with a broken collarbone, frankly).

Sanchez will be a free agent. Foles still has one more year on his rookie deal. It would certainly be easy enough to bring Foles back and let 2015 decide whether he gets a franchise-quarterback contract. But then Kelly is in his third season and if Foles plays more like he did this year than last year? Year 4 isn’t exactly the time to start looking for a franchise quarterback.

I would expect Kelly and Roseman to explore all the options, including mortgaging some draft picks to move up and try for Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. If they can’t hit a home run, they can always come back with Foles. But swinging for the fences seems like the right thing at this point.

How responsible is Beckham for the Giants’ recent success? It looks from a distance as if he quickly has become the bell cow for that team. Does it look like that from up close? How good can the kid be?

Graziano: He's the engine, that's for sure. I thought the target distribution was more even this week, then I looked at the box score and saw Beckham was targeted 12 times and no one else was targeted more than six. And this in Manning's best game of the year. It's not exaggerating to say there's no one in the league playing the receiver position better than Beckham is playing it at the moment. He runs great routes, has great speed, catches everything and offers the ability to run trick plays where he lines up in the backfield because he can run with the ball or even throw it. He had only two catches for 28 yards in the Week 6 whitewashing in Philadelphia in which Victor Cruz went down. But since that game, Beckham has 1,048 yards and 10 touchdowns in only nine games. He can be as good as he wants to be. Remember, he's doing this after missing almost all of the offseason program, all of training camp and the first four games of the season due to a hamstring injury. In the grand scheme of things, at the NFL level, he has barely even practiced.

As far as this game goes, Beckham and the Giants’ offense are on a roll. Do you expect them to be able to continue it against an Eagles defense that shut them out in Week 6?

Sheridan: Yup.

Oh, I should write more? I just don’t see anything from the Eagles' defense that suggests they’re equipped to stop the bleeding that has cost them these past three games. There is some chance that Bradley Fletcher will get benched after his escapades covering Dez Bryant and DeSean Jackson, but there is a reason the Eagles kept running Fletcher out there. He’s better than Nolan Carroll and Brandon Boykin.

That said, can he cover Beckham? I shudder to think about the damage that might be done if the Eagles try to find out. The simple fact is the Eagles have tended to lose against good quarterbacks with decent weapons to work with. You know better than I do what was up with Manning and the Giants when the Eagles shut them out in October. Cruz got hurt in that game. Beckham was only a household name with “David” in front of it back then. But if the Giants of the past few weeks show up Sunday, they will be able to get some big plays on this defense.

There always seems to be speculation about Tom Coughlin’s future. He endured a seven-game losing streak this season. Now that things seem turned around, is there more confidence in Coughlin going forward? Is he feeling re-energized?

Graziano: I never sensed a lapse in energy -- not for any sustained length of time. Coughlin was down after the loss in Jacksonville that dropped the Giants to 3-9, but true to his nature he was right back up Wednesday and getting the team ready for the next game the way he always does. At this point, I think it would be shocking if he's not back next year, based on everything I've heard inside and outside the building about this. Ownership never wanted to get rid of him -- especially after only one year in the new offense and with Ben McAdoo still only 37 and likely not ready yet to take over. There was some concern that a lousy finish might force their hand, but the three straight wins here have mellowed things, and now I expect Coughlin back in 2015. And I don't expect to see any difference in the way he coaches or operates. He's as consistently a high-energy coach as there is in the league, even though he's the oldest, and if there was no reason to get rid of him last year, I don't see what the reason is to do it a year later.


QB snapshot: Eli Manning

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
A quick observation of quarterback Eli Manning and the way he played in the New York Giants' 37-27 victory in St. Louis on Sunday:

If this season has been about showing progress in the new offense, then based on Sunday Manning surely is trending in the right direction. This was his best game of the season -- 25-for-32 for 391 yards and three touchdowns.

Yes, he targeted Odell Beckham Jr. 12 times and no one else more than six, but in spite of that the target distribution was more even than it had been. Rueben Randle went over 100 yards and caught a touchdown, each for just the second time this season. Manning was, as Tom Coughlin put it, "as focused and as zoomed in on what he was looking for in this game as any game we have seen this year." He checked in and out of run plays like a surgeon and threw the ball with complete confidence.

This was an excellent game for Manning to put on tape with the offseason and a second year in Ben McAdoo's offense around the corner.
Tom Coughlin has 46 years on Odell Beckham Jr., so if the New York Giants coach's message to his young wide receiver were a stereotypical, get-off-my-lawn sermon about the evils of end-zone celebrations, Beckham likely would tune it out. Coughlin knows this, and besides, he doesn't have anything against guys expressing themselves as long as it doesn't cost the team penalty yards.

And so it was that Coughlin's postgame chat with Beckham on Sunday night was infused with nuance and an understanding of his blue-hot young star. Coughlin, 68, enjoys Beckham's energy and "exuberance" (his word) and doesn't want to deprive him of it. What he told Beckham was that he wants him to understand the specifics of when and where those things can have a negative effect, and to try to steer clear of those situations.

"He looked at me and said, 'Coach, stay after me,' " Coughlin said Monday. "He wants to learn and he wants to continue to improve and be better. I think he will and I think going forward, as he understands the professional game, that he will understand that some of the things that take place give the wrong message or send the wrong message."

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
John Munson/NJ Advance Media for TODAY SportsIf you've doubted how much Tom Coughlin still cares about coaching, look at how he's handling his young receivers.
Coughlin has another young wide receiver, third-year man Rueben Randle, whose circumstances are far different. While Beckham has raced to the stratosphere in his first 11 NFL games, Randle has failed to take the step forward the Giants hoped he would take this season. He also has been benched for parts of two recent games because of issues he's had regarding meetings and practices during the week. Coughlin has not divulged specifics, but he's also made no secret of his disappointment in Randle's "issues" (his word).

Randle had a big game Sunday, and Coughlin made a point of addressing Randle's "preparation" Monday -- a strong hint about weekday habits for a guy who's had trouble with them.

"As I have said all along, Rueben Randle is very talented," Coughlin said. "The way in which he approached this game, I would hope he would stamp on the back of his hand to remind him of how he prepared for this one and how well he played. We need him to play like that."

This is not a double standard. It's just two different approaches to two different players in two different situations. What Randle has done is not acceptable, and Coughlin has made it clear to him in no uncertain terms that it won't be accepted -- that if he keeps it up, he won't play, no matter how much the team needs him. What Beckham has done is acceptable, but it's also the kind of thing that could lead to occasional problems if he lets it get out of control, so Coughlin's talking to him about ways to keep it under control.

What makes Coughlin a good coach is his ability -- nay, his determination -- to first understand his player and/or team before deciding how to coach that specific player and/or team. Beckham on Sunday needed a casual, man-to-man chat about specifics. Randle over the past month has needed a proverbial kick in the you-know-what. Sunday's results indicated the still-vibrant ability of Coughlin to deliver both.

At this point, I expect Coughlin to return as Giants coach next season. And if you're using his current behavior as a gauge, you certainly don't see a guy who expects to coach only one more Giants game.

"I look at this as, I am a teacher, and I can bring a wealth of experience to a young player like this and try to help him avoid some of the potholes, if you will, that occur for young guys," Coughlin said. "The ability to establish who they are, what they represent, the quality of the player that they are and also the quality of the person that they are."

Coughlin is a true professional who will operate this way until the end of his career, whether that's next week, next year or five more years down the road. But if you happened to wonder whether he's still got it or whether he still cares as intensely as he ever did, look at what he's doing with these two young receivers and realize there are few working harder on the most important nitty-gritty, day-to-day aspects of his job than this guy is.
ST. LOUIS -- He faked a corner route, which took care of the cornerback in front of him, then he zipped past the safety on what was suddenly a post route, and Eli Manning's pass found him in stride. Seconds later, New York Giants rookie Odell Beckham Jr. was back in the end zone on the tail end of an electrifying 80-yard touchdown catch. And this time, instead of spinning the ball on the ground or doing some bizarre dance, Beckham just handed the ball to the official standing nearby.

"Just celebrate with your team, that's what we're supposed to do," Beckham said. "It feels good when all those big guys are running down 80 yards to celebrate with you. I didn't want to hear anything else."

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Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesOdell Beckham Jr. was flagged for taunting for spinning the ball after the first of his two touchdown catches on the day.
It had indeed been a cacophonous day in the life of young Mr. Beckham. With eight catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns -- eye-popping numbers that have become routine for him over the past few weeks -- he broke Jeremy Shockey's Giants rookie record for receptions, went more than 1,000 yards receiving for the season (in just his 11th game) and jumped into the top 10 in the league with 11 touchdown catches.

But he also got flagged for a taunting penalty for spinning the ball after his first touchdown. And while he obviously didn't start it, he did admit to and apologize for his own loss of temper that helped escalate the second-quarter brawl that got three players thrown out of the game for fighting.

"He has a little something, a little flair to him, which obviously we like, the fans like and people like, but opposing teams will try to get into his head," Manning said. "He's a young guy. They're going to try to not let him high-step and do his things on the sidelines, and today it looked like they weren't going to let him get away with that and showboat. So he's just got to know, around the sidelines when people can take shots, they're going to."

Beckham's talent is undeniable and formidable. There is no one in the NFL playing the wide receiver position better than he's playing it right now, and Sunday was only his 11th NFL game. He's having dinner with LeBron James and exchanging texts with Michael Jordan. He is a shooting star. But as Manning points out and Beckham readily admits, he's also still a rookie with a lot to learn about life in the NFL. Sunday's lesson was about the manner in which his "flair" has a chance to make him a target for opposing teams.

"Since the first play, it felt as if there were a bunch of hawks all eyeing you," Beckham said. "And we knew it was going to be like that. I was just trying to find a way to keep my composure. It was sometimes difficult today, but I tried my best to keep my head in the game and stay the course."

He said he didn't think spinning the ball after his touchdown should have resulted in a taunting penalty, because it wasn't directed at anyone. But Giants coach Tom Coughlin felt otherwise and let Beckham know about it.

"He finally got flagged for a celebration," Coughlin said. "So I hope that lesson is learned. He will tone it down. He will. He did."

"I didn't quite understand the penalty, but Coach Coughlin addressed it with me and said, 'You know we can't get those,' and I completely understand," Beckham said. "That's just being young and trying to learn the rules of what you can and can't do."

But in terms of post-touchdown celebrations in general, Beckham doesn't expect to stop completely. And he doesn't believe it gives his opponents extra motivation to mess with him.

"I don't think it fuels them; I think it fuels me," Beckham said. "Of course I don't want the penalty, but we're out there having fun. If you get into the end zone, you deserve to celebrate. It's what we work for."

That is completely true. Contrary to the way Beckham makes it look on a weekly basis, it's hard to score touchdowns in the NFL, and celebrating them is perfectly all right. I'm not here to tell Beckham he has to stop dancing or even spinning the ball after touchdowns if that's the way he chooses to express himself.

But the lesson of Sunday is that this stuff doesn't happen in a vacuum, and Beckham has to be conscious of the way his antics are viewed by officials and opponents. Moving forward, he must find a way to walk a line -- to find ways to have fun and be his ebullient self without causing a problem for his team or putting himself in unnecessary danger. It's entirely possible to be a great, thrilling NFL player and still not give opponents a reason to treat you as rudely as the Rams tried to treat Beckham on Sunday. If Beckham can cultivate that skill as effectively as he has polished his speed, hands and route-running, there will be very little that can stop him.
ST. LOUIS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New York Giants' 37-27 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday:
  • McClain
    Linebacker Jameel McClain walked from the field to the locker room hollering, "Dirty-ass team! That dirty [stuff] doesn't help you win! They suck as an organization!" This was in obvious reference to the Rams, as the Giants felt they'd been targeting Odell Beckham Jr. with cheap shots all game and trying to get under his and the Giants' skin. "I'm just not interested," McClain said later. "I had a lot of respect for the things their defense did. I'm just not interested in chippiness and dirty play. It's not what this game is about, and it has no room in the league." Jason Pierre-Paul and Antrel Rolle were among the other Giants to use the word "dirty" to describe the Rams.
  • lastname
    "Doesn't anyone want to talk about the game?" a frustrated Giants coach Tom Coughlin asked after several questions about Beckham and the first-half brawl. Seconds later, he ended his postgame news conference early with a sarcastic "Happy Holidays" and stormed out before his "game" questions could be asked -- or before someone could explain to him that when you're 6-9 and were eliminated on Thanksgiving, it's not unreasonable for people to ask about the brawl that saw two of your players get kicked out of the game or the continued maturation and development of your superstar rookie before they ask about the game. Not Coughlin's finest moment.
  • For his part, Beckham said Coughlin spoke to him about his ball-spinning end zone celebration that drew the flag, and Beckham apologized on behalf of himself and the team for his role in sparking the brawl. But he said he wouldn't apologize for playing with passion or for his teammates' standing up to protect him and one another. Damontre Moore, who along with Preston Parker was ejected for his role in the brawl, said he felt bad he let his team down by getting ejected, but he wouldn't do anything differently if the same circumstances presented themselves.
Jason Pierre-Paul AP Photo/Bill KostrounNew York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has turned up his production in recent weeks.
Six sacks in his last three games have raised Jason Pierre-Paul's season total to 9.5, which isn't an elite-pass-rusher number, but Pierre-Paul says it doesn't matter.

"Just numbers, man," the New York Giants defensive end said after his big game Sunday against Washington. "If you look at the film, really break down all the statistics, I'm having a great season."

The Giants, as you know, are not. But if Pierre-Paul truly is, he's setting himself up well for a free-agent contract push that could force the Giants into an interesting offseason decision.

Pierre-Paul turns 26 in two weeks and is eligible for free agency a couple of months after that. Given his age, the brilliance he flashed during the Giants' 2011-12 Super Bowl run and what's shaping up to be a strong finish to his walk year, he's likely to generate a high level of interest on the open market. Elite pass-rushers are a rare commodity, and if Pierre-Paul can sell himself at that -- at his age -- he has reason to dream of a deal in the $12 million or $13 million-a-year range.

The Giants will have enough cap space to do a deal like that if they want to keep Pierre-Paul. But they have many other needs as well, and the way the Giants generally act with their free agents is to set a price they think is fair and tell the guy he's welcome to go try to get more elsewhere if he thinks he can. It's unclear at this point whether the Giants would break the bank to keep their 2010 first-round draft pick, though they are happy with the way he has performed in 2014.

"JPP is playing very well," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Monday. "Technically, early on, he was doing some things that we could correct and help with, and we did, and he has really adapted his game again to the way and manner in which we would like him to rush."

The Giants' pass rush as a whole has taken off the last three weeks in games against Jacksonville, Tennessee and Washington. After recording a total of 19 sacks in their first 11 games of the season, the Giants have 22 sacks in their last three games, pushing them all the way up to No. 4 in the league in that category. Much of that has to do with the contributions they're getting from young players like linebacker Devon Kennard, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and defensive ends Kerry Wynn and Damontre Moore. But Pierre-Paul is the centerpiece player -- the all-around defensive end who can take on left tackles, play the run and find his way to the quarterback with his speed and instincts. That's the player they saw in 2011, and after two injury-plagued seasons that followed, the Giants believe they're seeing that player again this year.

They will need a foundation piece for the pass rush this offseason. If it's not Pierre-Paul, they'll have to find it somewhere else -- either in free agency or with a first-round draft pick that currently would be No. 8 overall. I can't tell them how to spend their money, and I understand being hesitant to commit five or six years and $12 million or $13 million a year to a guy who's struggled to stay healthy. But Pierre-Paul may end up being their best option.

He also would be the first of GM Jerry Reese's first-round draft picks to sign a second contract with the team. Aaron Ross (2007), Kenny Phillips (2008) and Hakeem Nicks (2009) all went elsewhere at the end of their rookie deals for reasons of injury or ineffectiveness. Prince Amukamara (2011) is no sure thing to break that trend. They hold a 2015 option on him and it remains to be seen what effect his season-ending injury has on their long-range assessment of his value. David Wilson (2012) had to retire in August due to neck injuries. And it's far too early to know what the future holds for Justin Pugh (2013) or brilliant rookie Odell Beckham Jr. (2014).

First-round picks are supposed to be long-term foundation pieces. The questions for the Giants are whether they believe, after five years, that Pierre-Paul is a foundation piece and how much they're willing to bet on it.
New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings re-injured his sprained right ankle on the first play of Sunday's victory against Washington and did not return.

"He did have a reoccurrence of the ankle and was not able to go back in the game," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Monday. "Whether or not we are all the way back to Square 1, I don't know yet. I don't have anything on that today yet."

Jennings sprained his ankle in the Week 13 loss in Jacksonville and played a minimal role in the following week's victory in Tennessee. He was slated for a slightly larger workload Sunday, as evidenced by the fact that he got the first carry of the game. But says he "tweaked" the ankle on that very play, and now his status for the final two games of the season is obviously in doubt.

Assuming the injury is where it was after the Jacksonville game, it's impossible to count on Jennings for Sunday's game in St. Louis, and it's possible they could just shut him down for the rest of the season and give the starting running back work to rookie Andre Williams. We likely won't know for sure until Wednesday, when the Giants return to the practice field. But it's obviously not looking good for Jennings to have the strong finish to the season for which he was hoping.

Jennings is in his first year with the Giants, having signed a free-agent contract in March. Early in the season, when the offense was having success, he looked like a good fit as the all-purpose starter at running back. He had 176 rushing yards in the Week 3 victory against Houston and averaged 4.35 yards per carry during the Giants' first five games. But he injured his knee in Week 5, missed the next four games and wasn't back to full strength until the Jacksonville game, in which he injured the ankle. So Jennings' first Giants season will turn out to have been about injury and time missed, and his health issues will make him one of their question marks going into 2015.
Over the past six seasons, Tom Coughlin's record as coach of the New York Giants is 52-46. That counts the three playoff games and the Super Bowl he won during that stretch, and, no, it's not a very good record at all. Better than some? Yes. Enough to justify the kind of job security Coughlin has? Not by most teams' standards, no.

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
Kathy Willens/AP PhotoTom Coughlin is the public face of the Giants, a role ownership places a high priority on.
But Coughlin doesn't work for most teams. Coughlin works for the Giants, and in spite of the guarantee of a second straight losing season and a fifth season out of six without a playoff appearance, the strong likelihood is that Coughlin returns next year for a 12th season in his current job. I'm not able to put a percentage on it as the New York Post did, but the sense I get from talking to people in that building is that a lot of minds would have to be changed in the next two weeks for the Giants to decide to replace Coughlin.

Which means that wins and losses aren't the only criteria the Giants' owners are using to assess Coughlin. If they were, it would be extremely easy for the Giants to stand up at the end of this season, point to that .531 winning percentage over the last six years, proclaim that it's not up to their standards, thank Coughlin for his long and meritorious service to the organization, and move on to someone else. That is what most professional sports teams in their situation would do.

But the Giants, quite proudly and stubbornly, do not operate this way. Not with this two-time Super Bowl-winning coach. Not with a general manager, Jerry Reese, whose lousy draft record is the real reason for the playoff drought. Both of those men appear safe in their current jobs as the offseason looms, and the reason is that the Giants view themselves as more circumspect than most organizations.

The Giants' decision-making process on these matters contains a level of nuance that doesn't jive with today's knee-jerk sports-fan sensibility. Most people see a coach consistently missing the playoffs, or a GM consistently missing on important draft picks, and decide the answer is change for change's sake. Fans (and quite a few team owners) view coaches and GMs as disposable or replaceable. They seem to believe that the key to success is shuffling new people into those positions until one of them wins a Super Bowl.

Not so the Giants, who will arrive at their offseason two weeks from now determined to find solutions but not prejudiced toward any one particular path. Before deciding to part ways with a head coach who's ingrained in the franchise's history at a celebratory level, the Giants will ask whether such a move is likely to solve their problems. The bet here, as I've said, is that they'll decide it won't and will instead involve Coughlin in the search for solutions.

If the Giants believed Coughlin was among their biggest problems, they likely would make a change. But the Giants don't view Coughlin as a collection of wins and losses. They look instead at the tone he sets week to week in the locker room and in the meeting rooms, the energy he brings to the job, the way the players respond to him and the public face he puts on the organization as the one who has to face the public on a daily basis. These are all very important aspects of a head coach, and the Giants choose to prioritize them on a high level -- maybe even higher than they prioritize the win-loss record, which they view as subject to the whims of injuries and week-to-week tumult in an unpredictable league. There is evidence throughout Coughlin's career that a decision to stick with him through lean times can bring the sweetest of rewards, and the Giants choose to focus on that when deciding he's still the man for their biggest job.

You may disagree. You may want change for change's sake. You may believe Coughlin is simply not good enough a coach, or that his time has passed, or that the Giants aren't far enough into their current rebuild to justify the return of a coach who'll be 69 when next season starts. It is your perfect right to believe any or all of that. But to this point, the people deciding Coughlin's fate continue to believe he's the right man to coach their team. And they're looking well beyond his record to arrive at that decision.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rashad Jennings was the New York Giants' starting running back Sunday, but that's quite literally all he did. After carrying the ball for three yards on the first play from scrimmage, Jennings left the game and did not return. The Giants beat Washington, 24-13.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin, asked whether Jennings re-injured his sprained right ankle on that play, said, "Yeah, right away, he did."

Jennings wasn't around after the game to ask, which lends credence to the idea he did indeed re-injure the ankle and that it could be a problem that lingers into the season's final two weeks.

Jennings sprained his ankle two weeks ago in Jacksonville, and while he was active last week in Tennessee, he was the backup to rookie Andre Williams and played a minimal role as the Giants blew out the Titans. My understanding as of Friday was that Jennings' ankle was feeling better but not 100 percent even though he practiced all week, and that the Giants would try to use him in a bit of a lesser role for one more week before letting him loose again next week in St. Louis. They did not get that chance, and we'll wait to hear Monday whether there's a negative prognosis that could cost Jennings a chance to play in the Giants' final two games.

Williams had 131 yards on 24 carries last week against the Titans' No. 32-ranked run defense, but only 44 yards on 18 carries Sunday against Washington's top-10 run defense that loaded up to stop him. If Jennings can't play in the final two games, you can expect the Giants to give Williams a heavy workload, and the benefit of that would be a chance for him to develop and for them to evaluate him in advance of next season.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Odell Beckham Jr. is collecting superlatives as quickly as he's piling up touchdowns. His one-handed catch against the Dallas Cowboys was hailed in some circles as the best ever. He's a late entrant into the rookie of the year race. He's breaking records. He's having dinner with LeBron James. He's trying out for the new "Avengers" movie.

(All right, yeah, I made up that last one. But how surprised would you have been, really?)

The thing is, while we all sit here dazzled every week by what the New York Giants' rookie wide receiver is doing, it turns out he's just doing what he was told.

"I set expectations as high as possible," Beckham said after catching a ho-hum 12 passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns Sunday in the Giants' 24-13 victory against Washington. "Back in Week 5, when I played my first game, Antrel [Rolle] came up to me and said, 'Don't forget, you still owe me 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.'"

It's entirely possible that Rolle was kidding -- a veteran team captain just trying to motivate a rookie who'd missed the first four games of his career with a hamstring injury. Asking a guy who'd never played in the league before to run up 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in three-quarters of a season is a bit much.

Unless that particular guy is a Marvel superhero.

"Nothing this guy does amazes me," Rolle said Sunday afternoon.

With two games left in the season, Beckham has a Giants rookie record 972 yards to go with nine touchdown catches. A little quick math indicates that he needs only to average 14 yards and half a touchdown per game the rest of the way to complete the homework assignment Rolle gave him in October. Since Beckham has had 90 or more yards in each of his past seven games -- and 100 or more in five of those -- it's difficult not to like his chances.

"The young man is having outstanding success," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He's a very good football player. He has the ability to go the distance any time he gets it, whether as a punt returner or as a receiver. He can run the football, he can throw the football, so we've tried to create a lot of situations for him. He has the talent to exploit the defense in a lot of different ways."

For Coughlin, that's straight-up gushing. See, everybody in the world saw THE CATCH against the Cowboys three weeks ago. But what those of us who are watching him every week see is consistent brilliance, snap-to-snap. Beckham does spectacular things in games and practices. He's a sizzling ball of energy who'll catch your eye with touchdown dances and bark right back at defenders who are trying to get in his head. But he's also a precise route runner with reliable hands and a good head for the game. And if you're a Giants coach, teammate or even a fan, you have to like that he's not too caught up in the brilliant stuff.

"They broke up one pass in the end zone that's going to give me trouble sleeping at night," Beckham said. "Earlier in the game, I was frustrated. There were plays, I think it was a third down where I didn't get both feet in bounds. The throw in the corner of the end zone that I feel I should have caught. There was another one I feel I should have caught. Whenever I get a chance to make a play, I feel it should be made."

And yes, he was down on himself for muffing the punt at the end of the game that put Washington's offense back on the field with seconds left on the clock instead of letting the Giants on the field to kneel on the ball and end the game.

"I was being lackadaisical. Too relaxed," Beckham said. "I went and apologized to our special-teams coach, because that is just not acceptable. There's nothing better than having the offense run on the field in victory formation."

He is surely forgiven, but it says a lot that Beckham is the one reminding us all how young he still is. Sunday was only his 10th game in the NFL, which means that he has room to grow and -- gulp -- get better. If the Giants' near future has another Super Bowl title in it, it's going to be with this young man as its brilliant centerpiece.

"He's the fire of this offense," Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "We lost Victor Cruz early in the season, but I can only imagine. I can't wait to see those two guys on the field together."

Beckham gives the Giants license to dream of a big, bright future. And it's not because of one great catch or one great game. It's because of what he's doing every single week, at the highest possible level. The most eye-popping thing about Odell Beckham Jr. right now is that he's making the eye-popping stuff routine.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Observed and heard in the locker room following the New York Giants' 24-13 victory Sunday over Washington:
  • The talk was, of course, of rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and his three touchdown catches. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said, "He's the fire of the offense." Safety Antrel Rolle said, "Nothing this guy does amazes me." And fellow rookie Andre Williams said, "Odell is playing at the highest level. I catch the 'wow' moment at the end. I don't see him run his routes or anything. I just see him in the end zone, mostly."
  • For Beckham's part, he believes he can do more. He chided himself for a first-half play on which he believed he should have gotten both feet in bounds, and of course for his error on the final punt return of the game. "I apologize to my special teams coach," Beckham said of the muff. "There's no better feeling than seeing your offense run on the field to take a knee at the end of the game."
  • Tom Coughlin declined to explain Rueben Randle's latest benching but indicated it was more than just a first-quarter benching like the one in Jacksonville two weeks ago. This time, Randle declined to discuss it as well. My impression was that his entry into the game would have been delayed even longer had Kevin Ogletree not had to leave briefly to be checked for a head injury.
  • Coughlin said running back Rashad Jennings re-injured his ankle on the first play of the game. Jennings did not return. He had been hoping to get through this game and be at full strength for next week, but it's unclear whether this latest development changes those plans.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It was all a big joke to New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, the idea that he'd shown up on Wednesday's injury report. He talked about how the coaches came to him and told him they had to list him because external suspicions had been aroused. He even asked the reporters at his locker which body part the team had picked to list as injured, then nodded and said, "generic enough" when told it was his back.

Point was, Manning is playing Sunday, as he always does. This is a guy who had ankle surgery in the spring and practiced three weeks later. He'll make his 165th consecutive start at quarterback for the Giants, and yeah, his back or his leg or his arm might not feel as great as he'd like it to feel, but that doesn't matter. What matters to Manning is that he plays.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
AP Photo/Julio CortezEli Manning certainly gets his share of criticism, but there's no denying his toughness.
"I want to be there for my teammates," Manning said when asked about his streak Wednesday. "I want to be there for the organization. We have a lot of guys who are banged-up and hurting, they're out there practicing, they're playing on Sundays, and I want to do the same for them. Always."

That's the Eli Manning mantra. And as another playoff-free Giants season unravels into irrelevance and discussions about Manning's performance and his future, it's important to step back and understand the value inherent in the fact that, for the past 10 years, the Giants haven't had to worry or wonder about who their quarterback was going to be on a given week.

"We've been able to, for a number of years, have a starter that's been in his position no matter what, game in and game out," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "No question, that's a solid, solid plus to be able to do that."

That's understating the case. Look around the league at the stunning number of teams who can't do that. The Washington team the Giants are playing this week has no idea who its quarterback should be this week, next week or next year. Coach Jay Gruden called his situation a "merry-go-round" Wednesday, and you can hear the weariness in a coach's voice when the topic is quarterback and he doesn't have an answer.

But Gruden isn't alone. A quick look at the standings reveals 11 teams that have immediate-future question marks at quarterback. Some of those teams, such as the Eagles, Texans and Cardinals, are playoff contenders in spite of the fact. Philadelphia could win this year's Super Bowl and still head into next year with uncertainty at quarterback, and if you don't think that eats at even the bright and ultra-confident Chip Kelly a bit, then you're kidding yourself.

"Eli is the kind of guy, he might not get the attention he deserves for his physicality because of his demeanor or his approach to the game, but he's one of the toughest quarterbacks I've been around," Giants running back Rashad Jennings said. "Nobody takes him for granted. As a player and as a human being, sometimes you don't recognize what you'll miss until it's not there. But we understand how important he is to this team, and he's a guy you want to play for."

The warts are all there, and they're undeniable. Manning will drive you absolutely bonkers with a poorly timed bad decision that results in an interception. Eli is not his brother, and he's the first to admit it. Does he belong in the conversation for best quarterback in the league along with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, etc.? Of course not -- not even with double the Super Bowl titles of three of those guys.

But my goodness, Giants fans, could you do worse. And the exceedingly rare occasion of Manning's presence on the injury report serves to remind just how valuable it is for a team to know it has a quarterback on whom it can rely. Every week. No matter what.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Quarterback Eli Manning will show up on the New York Giants' injury report Wednesday with a back injury. But while all of my two decades' worth of sportswriter training has taught me never to underplay an injury, I'm having a hard time taking this one seriously.

First of all, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said in his Wednesday morning news conference that Manning would "practice as he normally does" but that the team would list him as "limited" on the injury report basically because reporters all noticed that Manning took an extra-long time to get out of the trainer's room after Sunday's game. Especially after the NFL said last week that it was looking into whether the Dallas Cowboys hid a Tony Romo injury by not putting it on the injury report, it's possible the Giants are just making sure to cover their bases.

Secondly, during the open portion of Giants practice, Manning did not look in any way limited or challenged. And when we asked him about his first appearance on the injury report since 2011, he could not have been more dismissive of it.

"Feels great. No issues," Manning said. "Coach wanted me to take a few reps off, so that's fine. Nothing that will limit me in my preparation for the game. Just one of those things you have to go through these days in the NFL."

Manning's reaction indicated that this was truly a procedural move resulting from media attention on his unusual postgame routine Sunday. He said he didn't even know which body part the team had listed next to his name on the injury report.

"What did they go with?" he asked, and was told back. "Back? Generic enough, I guess. They told me they had to list something. But I don't consider myself injured."

Manning has started 164 consecutive regular-season games since being named the Giants' starting quarterback in 2004, and if he's practicing on a Wednesday like nothing's wrong, then I think you're safe to assume he plays Sunday against Washington.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It's all still going to be there when the New York Giants wake up Monday. It's all still going to be there a month from now, when their miserable season is over and the talk once again is about blame and change and offseason upheaval. Nothing that happened in Sunday's 36-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans changes what this season has been or what its consequences still might be.

But not one person in the Giants' locker room Sunday afternoon cared even a little bit.

"It just feels so good to win!" running back Rashad Jennings exclaimed. "We're going to enjoy this."

[+] EnlargeOdell Beckham Jr.
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiOdell Beckham Jr. can finally enjoy a win to go along with one of his monster performances. He had 11 receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown as the Giants won for the first time since his pro debut.
It has been more than two months since the last time the Giants won a game. On Oct. 5, they beat the Atlanta Falcons for their third victory in a row to improve to 3-2. In the 62 days that followed, the Giants experienced every form of football misery imaginable and more than a couple that weren't. They watched star players suffer season-ending injuries. They let second-half leads slip away to division rivals (Dallas) and fellow bottom-feeders (Jacksonville). They committed 15 turnovers, forced only eight and were outscored 208-124.

According to this site, gas prices fell from an average of $3.29 to $2.68 during the Giants' seven-game losing streak. It was a long, long time.

And yet ...

"I was actually very proud of the way these guys have gone through this stretch of time," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after Sunday's win was in the books. "I congratulated them not only for winning, obviously, but on coming to work, applying themselves, preparing, then being frustrated and still coming back in and making an outstanding effort. I thought they had done that week in and week out."

This is the point of Sunday for the Giants. All of the macro outside analysis is correct. The win means nothing for their long-lost playoff chances. It hurts their standing in the draft. It might not be enough to save the jobs of coaches on the hot seat. But that macro perspective doesn't exist or matter inside their locker room or on their practice field, where the players have been banging their heads against the wall for two months with nothing to show for it.

"You forget how good it feels to win and to validate all of the hard work," Jennings said. "Now we get to be on the other side of the excitement for a little bit. We're definitely going to have a good time flying home and knowing that's the kind of football we expect out of ourselves."

Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had a monster game, which is nothing new. What was different Sunday was that it came in a win. That Week 5 game against Atlanta was the first of Beckham's career, so the bulk of his brilliance has come without team reward.

"It definitely feels better with a win," said Beckham, who had nine catches for 117 yards and a touchdown before halftime Sunday. "It's hard to talk about how I'm playing when we keep losing games. This feels way better."

The defense, which had 19 sacks in its first 11 games of the season before getting seven last week in Jacksonville, added eight Sunday.

"I think overall, we've been playing well for a while and just not finishing," said rookie linebacker Devon Kennard, who had two of the sacks last week and two more Sunday. "We've known we were capable, and it was nice to finally put that together for four quarters."

Rookie Andre Williams had his breakout game, rolling up 131 yards (including a 50-yard touchdown) on 24 carries. Jason Pierre-Paul and Damontre Moore had two sacks apiece. Eli Manning threw a terrible interception, but it didn't hurt the team this time, and neither did Moore's stupid penalty on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's interception return. This day was all about the positives for the Giants, and it doesn't matter that the Titans are 2-11. These Giants needed to feel this way again, no matter how it happened.

"I have been dreaming about this feeling for seven weeks now," safety Antrel Rolle said. "It has been a while."

Three games remain in a lost season, and the Giants aren't all of a sudden a good team because they won Sunday. They're as likely to lose next week -- yes, even to the dumpster fire raging in Washington -- as they are to win. But they needed this, plain and simple.

It's easy to forget from the outside what these guys put themselves through every week to try to win a game. To go two months without a payoff is unimaginably frustrating on a physical and psychological level. So yeah. The Giants are going to enjoy the fact that they finally found a way to win. And they should.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Observed and heard in the locker room following the New York Giants' 36-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans:
  • lastname
    The Giants hadn't won a game in 63 days. So coach Tom Coughlin told his team how proud he was of their continued week-to-week effort and to revel a bit in the fact that it finally paid off with a win. "We're going to smile," Coughlin said. "We're going to enjoy this. We're going to be joyous, and we're going to smile about this before we get started on Washington."
  • Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said he was upset with himself on his long touchdown-pass attempt in the first quarter because he should have gone to his second read, Preston Parker, who was "wide open." Quarterback Eli Manning laughed when he heard that. "He only had two receivers on the route, so there were only two reads," Manning said. "Receivers always want to go deep all the time. He wanted to throw it deep. So no surprise there."
  • Manning spent a little more time than usual in the trainer's room after the game but said he was "just getting iced down on some things, nothing serious." Manning has not missed a game since becoming the Giants' starter in 2004.
  • Defensive end Damontre Moore got an earful from Coughlin after his penalty for taking out the quarterback negated the touchdown part of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's interception-return-for-touchdown. Coughlin said he "truly believed" Moore didn't realize there were rules about when you can and can't hit the quarterback during an interception return. Moore said he didn't know, but that he should have. "I should be better aware of all the rules of the game," he said.


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