- Ian O'Connor, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Tom Coughlin was talking to the 10-win football team before him, and he was some kind of ticked off. The New York Giants had just beaten the Washington Redskins on their field, had just met the double-digit standard for NFL success, and yet Coughlin's team was left out in the postseason cold.
Maybe the old coach forgot there were Showtime cameras in his FedEx Field locker room, or maybe he just didn't give a damn.
"A 10-win season in the NFL, OK?" he barked at his players before turning on the critics who had hounded him about his job security and his team.
"They can line up and kiss my ass," Coughlin said.
He'd won a Super Bowl off a 10-win season in 2007, and the 2010 Green Bay Packers would go ahead and do the same. But life isn't always fair in the NFL, even for Bill Belichick, who won 11 games with Matt Cassel in 2008 and still didn't land a bid to the tournament.
Sometimes you get a raw deal in sports, and sometimes you get what the Giants got this season -- a pox on Philadelphia's Dream Team house, and a chance to win their division and earn a home playoff game with a 9-7 record.
The Giants don't have to apologize for playing such an uneven regular season. They won the games they positively had to win against the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys, and earned the right to host the Atlanta Falcons in the first round.
But they must know they won't be dealing in the currency of house money Sunday at MetLife Stadium, not even close. The Giants need to seize this opportunity, if only because their core group of significant figures might not get another shot.
Coughlin is a youthful 65, but he can't coach forever. Eli Manning is in his prime, enjoying a career season and again proving to be the same kind of durable, show-up-every-Sunday force his brother Peyton was in Indy.
Only Eli understands how quickly fate and fortune are flipped upside down in the NFL. Two years ago, Peyton was quarterbacking a 16-2 team into the Super Bowl, and even in defeat, it seemed his Colts would never die.
Now the Colts are a 2-14 mess, Bill Polian is out and Jim Irsay is wondering whether Peyton's neck injury will ever allow him back on the field.
So even after they restored the Jets as second-class citizens in the market, and even after they bought Coughlin another contract extension, the Giants don't have a postseason to kick away here.
They blew a big chance against the Carolina Panthers six years ago, at home, when John Fox coached the way he coached and Tiki Barber said what he said. They blew a big chance against the Philadelphia Eagles three years ago, at home, when they no longer could deny that Plaxico Burress' bullet had punctured any hope of winning back-to-back titles.
The Giants need to finally win the home playoff game at MetLife they couldn't win under Coughlin in the old place. The Falcons are a good team, not a great one. If they can throw the ball, run it and run people down on defense, they haven't shown the ability to do that in the playoffs.
Matt Ryan is 0-2 in the postseason and counting. Perhaps he's ready to do what Eli Manning did with his own 0-2 postseason record in 2007 -- win it all. Perhaps Ryan will play outdoors the way he usually plays in his dome, sweet dome.
But right now, Manning is the better football player, giving the Giants an advantage at the sport's signature position. The Giants also have the advantage in the pass rush, and one that should decide this game.
Umenyiora. Tuck. Jason Pierre-Paul. Mathias Kiwanuka. On the phone last week, Lawrence Taylor said of that group: "They're a lot better athletes than we had in our day. I look at those guys right there, and damn, I couldn't imagine how good my Giants teams would've been if we had those athletes you've got nowadays."
The Giants won Super Bowl XLII because of the rush. As much as Manning's escape and David Tyree's catch and Asante Samuel's drop contributed to the cause, the relentless pressure on Tom Brady -- good for a record 50 touchdown passes that season -- separated the winners from the losers.
The same should happen Sunday. With Tuck and Umenyiora back, and with JPP extending his long arms of the law, the Giants have no good excuse for losing this game.
They're home. They're an outdoors team facing an indoors opponent. They have an outstanding quarterback and the ability to punish the other guy's not-quite-as-outstanding quarterback. They have a homegrown playmaker in Victor Cruz, a star out of left field who delivers the kind of offensive flash and dash the Giants almost always lack.
"This is definitely a Super Bowl team," Kiwanuka said, advancing a theme first established by Brandon Jacobs, who punctuated the Sunday night victory over Dallas with these words:
"I would not want to face the New York Giants in the playoffs now."
They've already played the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers tough, and the one really unfavorable matchup on the NFC side of the draw -- the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome -- is one they won't have to sweat until the conference title game, if at all.
Navigating that bracket is a lot to ask of a 9-7 team, but then again, the Giants have been granted an opportunity denied them last season at 10-6. They need to beat the Falcons and give themselves another shot (most likely) back at Lambeau Field, home office of the Giants' last great NFC conquest.
"I'm hoping that the fire and the momentum and the confidence and the way in which we play," Coughlin said, "can be reflective of how it was in '07. ... There are comparisons, but this is a different team and there's a lot of different people involved.
"But those that were with us then, they're very much anxious to have that type of playoff that it was [to] be repeated."
No, this isn't 2007; nobody ever said it was. But the chief holdovers from that Giants team should treat this as their very last chance to secure a 2007 result.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." "Sunday Morning With Ian O'Connor" can be heard every Sunday from 9 to 11 a.m. ET on ESPN New York 1050.
The Giants need to defeat the Falcons in the wild-card game, for '07's sake.