Coughlin: “We have two games to play and we have to win both games to get in the playoffs. That’s my take on that. Just because we’ve been there before and had our backs to the wall and we performed and did well, we have some inconsistencies this year that, quite frankly, have upset me to the point where I really don’t want to be historical. I want to see the consistency of effort and performance that I think we’re capable of and I’m trying to figure out, like everybody else is and I’ve talked to the team about, the peaks - I’ve done that. It’s not like they haven’t heard it coming. But there are some other issues. The issues are performance. You have to go play. We’ve had pretty good practices. I don’t have any complaint with last Thursday or Friday. I don’t. Why don’t we play better on Sunday? That’s a very good question. The bigger the games, the more fun it is, the more you look forward to it and so these are the games. This a whole season wrapped up in two weeks, one game at a time.”
Q: Numerous players have repeated your comments about the team’s inconsistencies. Are you glad they’re talking about it or concerned they will become obsessed about finding a reason for it?
Coughlin: “You are what you are. You have to discuss what the heck is wrong with your team and to do the things that we’ve done and beat the teams we’ve beaten and lose to the teams we’ve lost to by what we’ve lost by, in the manner that we’ve lost, it needs to be recognized. Throw the word consistency out. Call it whatever you want. Why aren’t we on an ascending line? That’s the word I was using with our team. We need to be ascending. Not leveled off and not going backwards, but ascending at this time of the year because it’s discussed by every team, even the teams that are in the playoffs now. If you listen closely, they want to be playing the best football that they can when the tournament starts. They want to be playing their best. They don’t want to be asking questions about, ‘Are we going to do this or are we going to do that?’ You don’t want to be asking those questions. You want those answered. When you go to work you want everybody on the same page.”
Q: How helpful is it psychologically for the players to know that they control their own destiny? Does that make a big difference to them?
Coughlin: “We have literally taken that approach since the bye. But now the way I say it is you have your toes on the ledge. You’re kind of doing this (leans over and looks down as if he’s on a ledge) a little bit. You’re either going to make it or you’re not going to make it. There isn’t any more breathing room. There’s no margin for error for where you want to get to. We’re back to the 'finish' theme, the 'finish' mantra. We’ve been here before and we’ve taken an entire season to discuss this because of things that have happened prior to us going in that direction. Well, we’re no different right now. Win two games. That probably doesn’t get discussed. You will have been 4-2 in your last six. If you split the last two, you didn’t finish the way you needed to. You learned a great lesson about finishing the year before and you didn’t finish the way you wanted to this year.”
Q: Some of the players say they have so much confidence in Eli because he’s come through so many times before in these situations. Do you ever think the players rely on him too much in the sense that they’re waiting for him to make a play?
Coughlin: “The man is the leader. He’s the quarterback. He sets the pace, normally, for the entire team. He gives great direction. The way he conducts his life, the way he works, his passion for playing, his competitiveness – and really, his desire to be in pressure situations, he is an excellent example for all. So I don’t think it’s bad for them to say that. But I do think they have to understand sometimes it helps to create an opportunity for Eli. We go from four takeaways (two weeks ago in a victory over New Orleans) to none (in last week’s loss to Atlanta). We go from the 48-yard line for field position to again the minus-whatever. I mean you’re playing against defensive teams that are pretty good. It’s not easy, especially when they’re scoring fast and he’s contributing to that, too. Everybody relies on Eli to go do it. We did it (coming back to win late) seven times the year before, and I like that for him in terms of when people think about him and his reputation as a quarterback and as a pressure player. I like that. I want that, but I’d like to see it happen a little bit right now.”
Q: Jason Pierre-Paul said he’s playing well though his sacks have declined. How much do you look at sack totals when you judge the guys who are supposed to be pressuring the quarterback?
Coughlin: “Certainly I’m aware of it, but I also know what the total package is and I also know that this game begins by stopping the run. Quite frankly, that’s not been a strong point for us.”
Q: Is there anything you can do at this point in the season about tackling?
Coughlin: “I think so. A lot of what you do at this point in time of the year is mental. Run your feet. Get in position. See what you hit. Be the aggressor. Get there first. Wrap tackle. Don’t just try to block tackle. Stay up and run through. Get some people to the ball. Go in swarms, not individually.”
Coughlin: “He never flinched, which is amazing. Domenik is a very good football player. He’s a very steady football player. He is a veteran who is aware of circumstances. He will stay within the guidelines of his position and how he is to react according to situations on the field, no matter where the ball is located, whether it be third down, first and second down, the green zone. He is a reliable, dependable player and he gives confidence to his quarterback because the quarterback knows exactly what he can expect from Domenik. We have, quite frankly, maneuvered a great deal of our season to get to this point with him so that he builds his own confidence that he knew he could continue to function.”
Coughlin: “Absolutely. Lawrence has done it before and he’s done it many times and he’s won games with pressure kicks. How do you kick a 47-yard field goal in minus-24 degrees under the pressure of sending your team to the Super Bowl? The guy has been under pressure and performed before and I have all the confidence in the world that he’ll do that again. As a matter of fact, I’m hoping he gets in that position where he can do that again.”
Q: This week you’re in Baltimore and the Ravens have one of the best special teams outfits you've faced this season.
Coughlin: “Year in and year out. Outstanding, physical, strong, fast, skilled. A good punter (Sam Koch) and a good kicker (rookie Justin Turner). The returner (Jacoby Jones) leads the league (with a 32.5-yard kickoff return average). He’s got three touchdowns, one on a punt return and two on kickoff returns. He’s a 215-pound man. Punt it long and out of bounds is what I say. And their coverage teams are both in the top 10. They have lots of linebackers in play.”
Q: On their coverage teams?
Coughlin: “On their team, you have a bunch of linebackers. They’re nicked a little bit, but that’s how they’re built. They have plenty of guys that are physical and can run and meet all those requirements of special teams.”
Q: You do so much studying in the offseason of upcoming opponents and now all of a sudden the Ravens have a new play-caller (Jim Caldwell) who has never called plays before. How did that affect your preparation?
Coughlin: “It’s obvious that you’ve done all your studying with one play-caller and now you have another one, so there may be a reference toward things that have been successful for him in the past that you’re relatively unaware of. But I don’t think that really offsets (your preparation) unless you see a game going in a different direction. But you have the most recent game. He called last week’s game, so obviously you’re heavily involved in that.”
Q: I know Ed Reed is a little older now, but does he still roam center field as well as he used to?
Coughlin: “He’s all over the place. He’s not just in center field. He’s down. He’s back. He’s in the half. He’s strong side and, all of a sudden, he’s weak side. He’s all over the place.”
Q: You usually don’t hear players talking about current events, but they were very emotional about the tragedy last week in Newtown, Conn. Did you speak to the team about it?
Coughlin: “We had a moment of silence, which was probably two minutes which could have been five. We all stood. I talked probably for 30 or 40 seconds and then the rest of the time was silent. But the players were talking about it themselves. They were talking about it in the morning when they were coming into work (on Saturday). I know exactly what they were thinking, because I was thinking the same thing. I was thinking about my children and how they were affected because they have young kids. I know that these players, as if I was thinking about my own children, with young kids and what their thoughts are. How in the world can you think that you have to have reservations about your child going to school? Your kid is at school. He’s safe. He’s going to be taught. That’s what you’re mindful of.
“We all have feelings. We all have emotions. We all would like everything to be right in the world. It’s difficult for people to understand how evil can exist in the world at this extent. But I wanted us as a family to recognize the families in what they were going through.”