<
>

NFC East in survival mode in Week 2

Once, Michael Strahan and Tom Coughlin could agree on nothing, a cold war born out of a tough-guy coach's insistence on ruling with an iron fist. Now, the Giants coach had listened throughout the preseason as his players sounded so impressed with themselves, thrusting the franchise into the conversation of Super Bowl contenders.


So, as Coughlin found himself standing there an opening night loser to the Colts, staring at a long week until Philadelphia on Monday, his locker room message was unmistakable.

Stop talking.

Start winning.

"I think he's right," Strahan said.

Coughlin and Strahan, united in something. Anyway, he's right. Listen, no one wants anyone to stop talking, to stop stirring it up. But truth be told, there's been so much talk for months and so much hype, the opening weekend of the NFL season cast an improbable pall over the division. Three of the four teams lost, leaving the possibility that there could be two 0-2 teams after the Giants play Philadelphia and the Redskins play the Cowboys on Sunday. So is the beauty of the NFL, crisis forever lurking around the corner.

This is Shut Up Sunday in the NFC East, the reputed toughest division in the National Football League. The Cowboys and Redskins looked lousy in losses to the Jaguars and Vikings. The Giants were respectable in defeat to the Colts, but a home loss is still troubling. Only the Eagles truly impressed on opening day, only they looked like their old, dominating division selves.

"I don't think it's a season-making or -breaking game," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "You couldn't say that."

Well, with Dallas, maybe. Here's the thing: The Cowboys are the closest to combustion. What's more, they play five of the next eight games on the road. They have a quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, on the brink of implosion after his three-interception debut against Jacksonville. No one manages controversy and crisis like Parcells, but if Bledsoe looks lost again, the fervor for his coach to replace him with backup quarterback Tony Romo will rise. Parcells won't make a choice for the future, but for now.

And truth be told, he knows that Romo isn't going to come out of nowhere and get him to a Super Bowl. For now, Parcells is trying to bleed one more season out of Bledsoe -- and maybe more than what's left in him.

Losing the first two games is a difficult proposition, but it isn't the death knell of a season. Joe Gibbs did it twice in the 1980s -- '84 and '89 -- and still won 11 and 10 games, respectively. Parcells did it in 1998 with the Jets, and reached the AFC Championship Game. Nevertheless, 0-2 isn't a recommended route to prosperity.

Just think, though, what it's going to be like in Washington or in Dallas when one of those two teams leaves Sunday without a victory. Or New York, as the Giants prepare to travel to defending NFC champion Seattle Sept. 24.

It's strange. Here is the division of Super Bowl champion coaches, Gibbs and Parcells sharing five titles. Andy Reid has gone to the title game. Coughlin reached the AFC championship with the expansion Jaguars. All these résumés, all this talent, all these expectations. And one opening week loss meeting the nature of expectations in the NFL, and suddenly everyone is on the brink.

"You don't want to end up having this thing go in a downward spiral," the Giants' Jeremy Shockey said.

Not the Giants, not anyone in the NFC East. These are the toughest of football towns, the toughest of places to start the season 0-2 with these fandoms. Suddenly, no one will be talking Super Bowl. They'll be talking survival. Here comes Shut Up Sunday in the NFC East.

Adrian Wojnarowski is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj10@aol.com. His national best-seller, "The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty," is available in paperback at this link.