When the New York Giants' most humiliating playoff performance in history was over, thank goodness the players weren't ingesting their coach's self-serving garbage. The worst-prepared playoff roster in the history of the franchise and Tom Coughlin wanted to talk about his wonderful regular season, about restoring Giants pride, almost dismissing Sunday as something of an aberration.
Where was the anger?
Hell, where was the accountability?
Only his players ever get held to such standards, never him. The Panthers' John Fox delivered a coaching clinic of championship proportion on Coughlin, a 23-0 pounding that was so devastating, so complete, that the Giants' coach should've been the most miserable man in the stadium.
Only, he was too busy spinning everyone on the great job he had done in the regular season, hoping that they wouldn't notice the way Fox had delivered a two-by-four upside his head in the NFC first-round playoff game. For a devoted disciple of Vince Lombardi, Coughlin ought to remember that his idol's famous mantra wasn't, "Winning isn't everything...so feel free to act like a playoff humiliation is no big deal at all."
As soon as Coughlin stepped into his news conference, he said of his program, "We started in the right direction here." The right direction? Hey, they could be back to 6-10 next season. That's how it goes in the NFL. Here was a home playoff game, here was a marvelous opportunity and they delivered 132 total yards, five turnovers and apparently delivered the Giants' playbook to Fox's hotel suite Saturday night.
"In some ways, we were out-coached," Tiki Barber said.
If this was a stunning admission out of the Giants' best player, it happened to be true. What's more, it was kind considering that Coughlin was out-coached in every way possible. Barber had the courage to say it. Everyone else on these Giants danced around it, suggested that it was the case, but only Barber has the cachet - the credibility after an MVP-esque season - to speak the truth.
"We're back in the playoffs," Coughlin declared Sunday.
Are you kidding? Who wanted to hear that Sunday? What Coughlin should've said was this: "We were happy to be here." Because that's how he coached and that's how his team played and that's sure how his disposition sounded later.
It's easy to act that way after your game plan was obliterated, after you couldn't get your players to buy into the urgency, after your fans started walking out of a playoff game before the start of the fourth quarter.
"Today, the bottom line is that (we) got the hell beaten out of us," Plaxico Burress said. "Today, nobody cares about (the regular season)."
Nobody cared Sunday about the way they played in the regular season, the 11 victories, the NFC East championship. All that's a touch tainted now. All that's suspect. The Giants didn't show up. They didn't play with the proper passion. And worst of all, they were reduced to pawns on Fox's chalkboard. Five years ago, Fox did this to the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game as the Giants' defensive coordinator, shutting out Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss, 41-0.
"They had an answer for everything we did," Burress said. "They were one step ahead of us the whole game. They had an answer for every formation. We ran the ball and they blitzed into it. We were throwing our play-action on first down, and they were dropping back deep. We could never get ahead of them.
"They just beat us in every phase of the game on offense. They took away everything from us. We were never able to do anything. They were more prepared than we were. Everybody's got to look himself in the mirror. ...
"Their coach did a good job of getting them prepared. You can't say that he didn't. (You've) just got to tell the truth. They had a great game plan."
Over and over, Burress praised Fox. His inference was unmistakable. Carolina's coach made the most of his personnel, and the Giants' coach didn't. The Giants kept turning to Coughlin to get them out of this mess, but he had nothing.
The Panthers had eight players close to the line of scrimmage, refusing to let Barber beat them. Part of it was the inexperience of Eli Manning, his indecisiveness, his trepidation. He tossed three interceptions, including two in the third quarter. Still, Burress watched the Panthers find ways to get Steve Smith the ball. They fed him the ball underneath, over the middle, everywhere. Smith had 10 catches, Burress none.
"I don't think Plaxico (Burress) had a catch," Barber said. "That's just a testament to our game plan not being the right one."
Burress watched Smith catch 10 passes, and wondered: Where were those short screens to just get the ball in my hands? Just give me a chance to get five yards on first down, just move the ball.
"That's what you do," Burress said. "Your playmakers are your playmakers. You put them out on the field and say 'Let's play. This is who we are. We are going to keep doing it until you stop it.'They were just playing smart."
Yes the Giants have had some dismal playoff performances, but this is different, this one was at home.
Jim Fassel had been crucified for some famous Giants playoff collapses, but give his legacy this: To collapse, first you had to do something. You had to score touchdowns, build a lead and even control the game. Well, these Giants did nothing.
"To get shut out in this business, that's practically unheard of," Burress said. "But to get shut out at home, you've really got to look at yourself in the mirror. And that includes me."
Well, Barber and Burress and Jeremy Shockey weren't trying to spin the most humiliating playoff loss in Giants history. They were hurt. They were angry. Unlike Coughlin, they weren't concocting imaginary locker room speeches that Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch would've delivered the team about - surprise surprise - what a wonderful regular season the Giants had.
As bizarre as someone asking what the late owners would've told the team Sunday, Coughlin - who hates answering the legitimate questions - dignified it with a response. In part, Coughlin said, those owners would've said, "Winning the division was a solid effort and guys stood up and played hard and gave great effort."
Maybe they would've said that the most cutthroat, bottom-line coach in the sport hadn't come close to matching his star players' regular seasons when his team needed him most in the postseason. For Coughlin, that was one more chance to defend the indefensible Sunday: his job performance in the Giants' brief, but brutal playoff appearance. Before this undressing could be extracted from the regular season, before we went back to consider this had been a much improved team, it would've been nice to hear Coughlin acknowledge that he had let down his Giants on Sunday.
Coughlin's all about accountability, and sometimes he needs to remember that begins and ends with him.
In Cincinnati, Steelers nose tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen tackled Cincinnati's quarterback Carson Palmer by the knee on his first pass, knocking him out of the game with a torn ligament, and Pittsburgh won 31-17 to set up a rematch with the AFC's top team.
Pittsburgh (12-5) will play in Indianapolis next Sunday with a chance to avenge a 27-7 loss on November 28.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 14-of-19 pass attempts for 208 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
The crowd of 65,870 erupted, then went silent on the Bengals' first pass play - a club playoff record 66-yard reception to Chris Henry. But as the ball left Palmer's hand, von Oelhoffen drove his shoulder into the quarterback's left knee.
Even though Palmer wears a protective brace on the knee, it bowed inward, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.
His replacement, Jon Kitna, completed 24-of-40 pass attempts for 197 yards with two interceptions and four sacks. He also knocked the ball out of his own hand while scrambling in the third quarter, scuttling a drive.