If you speak to Tom Coughlin, one of his big moments in his 12 years as head coach of the Giants — and don’t forget he won two Super Bowls in that span — was the voicemail John Madden left the day after the Giants ended their 2007 regular season with a 38-35 loss to the Patriots.
The Giants were trapped in their playoff position and the Patriots were 15-0 going into the first 16-0 regular season in NFL history. Coughlin opted to play all of his starters and almost ended the commotion at Giants Stadium. Madden was so taken with it that he called Coughlin to celebrate the decision to play as if the game mattered to the Giants.
“I think it’s one of the best things that’s happened in the NFL in the last 10 years,” Madden said. “I believe so firmly: That there’s only one way to play the game and it’s a regular season game and you go out and win the damn game.”
Madden, who admitted “I’m a little emotional,” continued Coughlin, “We’ve got too much of ‘Well, they’re going to give their players a rest and they don’t have to win, so they win’. Twin.’ Well, this is not a sport and it is not a competition.”
Move 15 years into the future and the Giants, this time with a new head coach, Brian Daboll, find themselves in a similar — but hardly identical — situation. The Giants are #6 in the NFC and can’t move up or down. They face the Eagles (13-3) Sunday at 4:25 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field, with the Eagles needing to win to earn the No. 1 seed and the bye in the first round. The Giants (9-6-1) can rest any or all starters if they wish, then prepare for their wildcard playoff game, most likely in Minneapolis and less likely in San Francisco.
Daboll said Monday, a day after his team clinched the franchise’s first playoff berth in six years with a stunning 38-10 win over the Colts, that he was still formulating a plan for the Eagles game and not much of a connection saw with Coughlin’s go-for-it approach against the undefeated Patriots.
“I think every situation is different,” said Daboll. “That’s a pretty unique circumstance this year — the record the Patriots had. And different every year. So what happened in 2007 has no real impact on what happens in 2023 for the choices we have to make.
“We’re going to do what we think is best for the team and sit down and have conversations. By the end of the week we will have our plan dialed in. Had they done that [in 2007] if a team was 10-6? Who knows? I don’t really know the answer to that.”
Players will have Monday and Tuesday off and will have a better sense of what’s next when they return to work on Wednesday.
“He’s going to make the right decision, whatever it is,” security guard Julian Love told the Post. “Dabes has been in this situation many times in his career, whatever he says we will do, we trust him. He has guided us on the right path throughout the season.”
Yes, Daboll was on many playoff teams during his time in the NFL. Most recently, Daboll served as Buffalo’s offensive coordinator for head coach Sean McDermott. When the Bills failed to improve their playoff positioning late in one season (2019), they rested their starters. The next year, they played their starters a half to try to retain the No. 2. In 2021, they played the entire game over their starters to win the AFC East. Daboll might or might not follow that script. For the first time he is in charge.
“I think you draw from all your experiences,” Daboll said. “We have to make decisions about … what’s best for our team, not for any other team I’ve been on.”
It’s likely that Daboll will decide that any player with a nagging physical issue will sit out this game. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams (neck) comes to mind. Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley’s workload has been heavy and the risk of pinching an ankle or knee is always there. The risk/reward trade-off of who’s playing and who’s sitting is one of the tough decisions a first-year head coach wants to make.
“It’s only right if it works, isn’t it?” said Daboll. “So if you do one thing and it doesn’t work, you do the other and something happens, then you’re definitely wrong. So if you go out and lay an egg, it’s the wrong decision. If you win, it’s the right decision.”
Players have praised Daboll’s competitive fire, and it would be a departure for him to push anything back.
“I expect we’re playing, for the most part we’re giving them a run,” Love said. “They want to keep the momentum going. Analytics and things you never know these days could go wrong. I want to play for my way.”