EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There is something admirable about the typically conservative Tom Coughlin, facing reports that he is coaching for his job at age 69 and after two Super Bowl wins, going for it on fourth-and-2 while up 10 late in Sunday's game against the Jets. This, of course, despite the fact that the Jets' offense showed no signs of being able to overcome a 13-point deficit, never mind the 17-point difference Coughlin was trying to create.
There is also something heartbreaking about the fact that the play resulted in the Giants' fourth loss this season that came within the last 13 seconds of a game. It was the team's fifth loss this year after beginning the fourth quarter with a lead. It was the Giants' third loss in a row, and fourth in their last five games.
This was supposed to be the time that Coughlin got it right. Instead, a familiar, noodling play call on fourth-and-2 resulted in a halted route and a logjam at the target where Eli Manning was supposed to throw the ball. Rontez Miles picked it off, and Coughlin was left explaining away why he gave his dead-in-the-water opponents the ball back down just 10 points with 8:42 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Giants' drive, which lasted 22 snaps and took the team from the 5:03 mark of the third quarter to the 8:50 mark in the fourth, yielded zero points.
"I went for it on fourth-and-2 thinking that that would certainly give, after the long drive and the amount of time used up in the drive, I thought that was the play at the time," Coughlin said. "I still do. Obviously we didn't score there, we had an interception there. They drove, kicked a field goal and then we didn't do anything with the ball again."
Coughlin was asked why a thousand different ways but his answer didn't change.
"I thought that was the play," he said. "I thought that was the play."
This could all end up being a humorous sidenote if the Giants end up falling into the playoffs. Not even the Dallas Cowboys are eliminated in the NFC East at 3-8. And quite honestly, there are coaches out there who would rather coach against anyone else in the playoffs besides Coughlin, no matter how ravaged the Giants' roster is.
But this could also end up being Coughlin's last stand.
"We were all just sitting there waiting to see what the call is going to be," said Odell Beckham, who was one of many Giants players on the field waving the kick team off on that fourth down. "We decided to go for it and we didn't get it -- you get on defense, you play defense and you make stops. You can never let plays determine the outcome of a game unless they are plays that are in the fourth quarter with seconds, no time on the clock. That is the only way."
After the game, cornerback Prince Amukamara talked about the symbolism that accompanies a gesture the Giants make at the beginning of every fourth quarter. They all place their index finger in the air, which means that everyone -- together -- needs to step their game up another level. There is one quarter left.
It pairs nicely with Coughlin's most popular mantra, which has always been "Finish." He says it every single day.
"We just believe in each other and just -- take it up another level," Amukamara said. "Why we're not finishing in the second half? I couldn't tell you. That's the coach's job. I mean, of course, I have my opinion but I'm not going to share it with you."
Sadly, the inability to do so cost the Giants again. Looking back at the team making the gesture on Sunday was more ironic than anything.
Was it more painful than Tony Romo to Jason Witten? Was it worse than Stephen Gostkowskias time expired? Did it hurt more than Kai Forbath as time was running out in the Superdome? Maybe, if only because there was so much of a chance to see it coming this time. There was history and knowledge and the inherent awareness in every staff member that this team has a tendency to crack a little bit when the pressure mounts.
"We have been in position to win games and we haven't won," Coughlin said. "I'm taking full responsibility for that. But still, we're there. As I told the team, we've got to find a way to finish the game, to win a 60-minute game and be in position at the end of the game to win it. It seems like back and forth we do have opportunities, even offensively, to end the game before they get the ball on the final drive and we haven't been able to do that."