Giants' Coughlin has lost 3 times to the same team before

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Losing to the same team three times in an NFL season is not new to New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin.

His Jacksonville Jaguars lost to the Tennessee Titans three times in the 1999 season, including a 33-14 loss in the AFC title game.

Since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, 11 teams have completed a three-game sweep. Only six teams who were beaten twice in the regular season have avoided being swept.

Coughlin, whose Giants will try to avoid being swept by the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in the NFC semifinal, quickly turned aside the idea that either the Jags were jinxed in 1999 or the Titans had their number.

Instead, the veteran coach focused on his favorite targets: mistakes and turnovers.

After losing 20-19 early in the season and 41-14 in December, Jacksonville had a 14-7 lead over Tennessee late in the first half of the AFC title game after a 33-yard touchdown run by James Stewart.

"It is just a matter of making the plays when they are there," Coughlin said. "We had a lead at halftime in that game and I think we had a mistake take place just before the half. The other team was able to convert a field goal and that didn't set well with anybody at the half, but we were not able to change it around.

The big mistake for Jaguars in the game played in Jacksonville on Jan. 23, 2000, was a fumble by Reggie Barlow on a punt return. It led to a field goal with 20 seconds left in the half, cutting the lead to 14-10.

The second half was all Tennessee.

Steve McNair scored on a short touchdown run about six minutes into the third quarter and then the game fell apart for Jacksonville in a matter of 17 seconds.

Mark Brunell was tackled in the end zone for a safety and Derrick Mason returned the ensuing free kick 80 yards for a touchdown and a 26-14 Titans lead.

"I just think it is game by game and, of course, when the plays are there you have to make them," Coughlin said.

The Giants have made their share of plays in losing to Cowboys 45-35 in the season opener in Dallas and 31-20 on Nov. 11 here.

In the first game, New York trailed by a point at halftime and was down 38-35 when Tony Romo threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Sam Hurd with 3:11 to play.

The second game was tied at 17 at the half, before Romo and Terrell Owens combined for touchdown passes of 25 and 50 yards.

"Obviously there are things that we can learn from each of those games," Coughlin said, noting that the Giants have to find a way to prevent Romo from buying time and throwing the ball down the field.

Since taking over as the Giants coach in 2004, Coughlin has faced the Cowboys eight times. There isn't much he doesn't know about them.

"I don't think you leave any stone unturned here. Obviously we are very interested in what has taken place from the time we played them last, but I think you still have to take everything into consideration," Coughlin said.

If there is a positive for Giants, they have played their best football in recent weeks in losing to the New England Patriots in the regular-season finale and then beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-14 in the NFC wild-card game.

"I do believe that the idea that these guys are having fun right now is very important," Coughlin said.

Eli Manning also has played better in that span, throwing six touchdowns and one interception.

"His numbers have been very good and his quarterback rating has been outstanding but he applies himself the exact same way,"

Coughlin said. "If anything, it is just the focus on the time of the year to be at your very best is right now."

Manning had a great game against Dallas in the season opener, throwing four TDs and one interception. He had one TD and two interceptions in the second game.

Coughlin also said Monday that center Shaun O'Hara and cornerback Sam Madison were not cleared medically to play against Tampa. Their status for this week is uncertain.

O'Hara sprained his left knee in the regular-season finale against New England, while Madison aggravated a pulled muscle in his stomach.

Starting weakside linebacker Kawika Mitchell, who was also hurt against the Patriots, did not aggravate his sprained left knee playing on a limited basis on Sunday.

Backup defensive tackle and snapper Jay Alford sprained a knee Sunday, but Coughlin hopes to have him back at practice on Wednesday.

Grey Ruegamer and Corey Webster both played well in replacing O'Hara and Madison, respectively.

Webster had an interception, recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half and limited Joey Galloway, the Bucs' 1,000-yard receiver, to one catch for 9 yards.

Starting left tackle David Diehl left the game late in the third quarter after cramping in the 70-plus degree heat in Tampa. Backup Guy Whimper did a good job replacing him for 12 plays on a 15-play, 92-yard touchdown drive that sealed the game.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.

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