EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tom Coughlin is a history buff, one who has never hesitated to use a tale or a quote from the past to nudge his team in the present.
This week, Coughlin did it again. Yet, he didn't need to go back to World War II or any conflict from decades or centuries ago. This lesson was one in recent history, one in which he partook.
It was eight years ago, nearly to the day, in Maryland. Coughlin, a coach very much on the hot seat after three unsuccessful seasons, took his 0-2 New York Giants into FedEx Field to meet the Washington Redskins. Trailing by 14 at the half, the Giants outscored Washington in the final two quarters, including a dramatic goal-line stand to seal a 21-14 victory.
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That was the start of a six-game winning streak and a run to Super Bowl XLII in Arizona, where they upset the previously undefeated New England Patriots.
This week, in the team meeting the night before another dire matchup with the Redskins, Coughlin showed his players clips of that game. He showed them the game-winning touchdown from Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress. He showed them the goal-line stand. And he showed them snippets of postgame interviews with Manning, linebacker Antonio Pierce and defensive end Michael Strahan.
Coughlin's point to his 0-2 Giants was this wasn't ancient history. It was their history. And it could be repeated.
"It was amazing how something happens and later on, life goes in cycles. It gave us a definite boost," middle linebacker Jon Beason told FOX Sports following the Giants' much-needed 32-21 win on Thursday night at MetLife Stadium. "You look at a team that started 0-2, with games they should've won, turn it around against Washington and then going on a winning streak. It's been done before."
Beason, who began his career with the Carolina Panthers, is one of only six current Giants who was even in the NFL back in '07. Manning, long snapper Zak DeOssie, safety Craig Dahl were all on the Giants that year. Kicker Josh Brown (Seahawks) and defensive end Cullen Jenkins (Packers) were elsewhere.
But a good portion of the coaching staff -- from Coughlin, to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, to quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan, offensive line coach Pat Flaherty and safeties coach David Merritt -- was around for that incredible season. So was Lt. Col. Greg Gadson, a friend of Sullivan and inspirational figure for the team for many years now. In fact, the '07 comeback against Washington was the first game Gadson attended and spoke to the team.
Gadson told the players how he lost both legs in Iraq when a roadside bomb went off. Gadson also told them his fellow soldiers who came to his aid were the reason he was still alive. He told them they had to play for their teammates just as he and his Army mates fought for one another.
Many of the Giants' current players had seen Gadson around the team recently, yet they didn't know his backstory. Frankly, they didn't know very much at all about that '07.
Coughlin, frustrated with his team's blowing two double-digit leads to open the season, decided it was time to tell them the story of that team.
"When you're struggling to finish games, sometimes you just need a little bit of an inspiration, a little spark to show you it can be done," offensive guard Geoff Schwartz said. "I didn't know the story. I didn't follow the Giants as a kid. I knew they won the Super Bowl and I knew (the Week 17) Patriots game. But I didn't know the whole backstory of it."
Shaun O'Hara, now an analyst for NFL Network, was the Giants' starting center in '07. He was standing in the locker room on Thursday night, noting how well the Giants defense played on Thursday in forcing three turnovers and holding the Redskins to 14 points (not including Rashad Ross' 101-yard kick return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter).
"The defense is why we won that game in Washington," O'Hara said, referring to the goal-line stand eight years ago. "And tonight, the defense came up big."
No one should be drawing any sweeping comparisons between this year's team and the '07 underdogs. Not yet, anyway.
These Giants still have to figure out how to run the ball more consistently (only 84 yards on 31 carries in the win over Washington), how to rush the passer like that '07 team (just one sack on Thursday and not nearly enough pressure late in the game for Spagnuolo's liking) and to do the little things that win games (unlike Dwayne Harris' diving attempt to catch a punt he wound up muffing as an angry Coughlin hopped up and down on the sideline).
But they entered the fourth quarter with a 12-point lead and exited with an 11-point victory. That's a small step forward they can take with them during the nine-day layoff before their next game. For all of their faults and clock mismanagements in losing very winnable games to the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons, they're only a game behind battered Dallas in the win column right now.
Coughlin reminded the players this week the NFC East was in "turmoil," which meant their problems didn't look as bad compared to the issues facing the Cowboys, Eagles and now Redskins.
And again, no worse than the problems the '07 team faced after two games.
"It's just like the guy who ran the first four-minute mile. Once it's been done, why can't we?" Beason said. "And why can't we now?"
Said cornerback Prince Amukamara, who set up the Giants' first touchdown with an aggressive play to record an interception, "I'm glad Coach showed us (the '07 highlights). It pumped a lot of guys up."