Q: You're going to Dallas with first place in the NFC East at stake. For you, is anything better than a pennant race in December?
Coughlin: "No, it's exactly what the plan was way back when, and it's a reality now. The very beginning of training camp our theme was 'finish.' And that theme has been reinforced throughout this week with our team in terms of we've got to finish as a stronger team. We have to finish the task at hand. We have to win the fourth quarter. Every game is tight, hard. I mean, look at our season. Early in the season we won many, many games at the end of the ballgame. In the last four-game stretch, we've had a chance to win three of the four games at the end of the game – literally the last play of the game. So we know very well the nature of our season and the way in which the games are played and won and lost at this time of the year. The emphasis, again, becomes 'finish' - finish stronger, finish better. We studied ourselves in the offseason, and that was a huge theme. It's never more important or vital to be reinforced again than right now."
Q: A lot of the players came out of the game the other day almost with a renewed confidence. They believed their prospects were good after losing to Green Bay. Do you believe a loss to an outstanding team can help moving forward? And did you believe that before 2007?
Coughlin: "You have to start with the basic understanding that this is professional football. There's no solace in playing well and losing. But, but, in the case of the Green Bay Packers...they were 11-0 – they had had some close ballgames, now, particularly on the road – so we analyzed this thing very closely and we felt good about our chance and our opportunity. In a lot of ways we did a lot of things exactly the way we wanted them to go. But, again, we didn't finish the game. We wanted to finish the game, but we did play against an undefeated team with a passion. We played from the heart. We were physical. We did a lot of the things we intended to do in the game, and so my quest for our players is give great effort. Be the best you can be and we'll see how it's decided on the field. In my opinion, we didn't lose the game. They had the ball last."
Q: This late in the season, especially with so many players injured, do you shorten practices and try to do more work in meeting rooms?
Coughlin: "We do the same as we always do. We try to – there are many teams and I've studied this over the years. The Pittsburgh Steelers have won, what, how many Super Bowls, and been in one, in the last few years. Since we won one, they've been in it twice. They don't change anything. They have the same number of reps at the end of the year as they do in the beginning of the year. We've done all the research. I will do whatever I have to do to make sure that our team – to the best of our ability – is ready to play on Sunday. So I change up within the nature of the practice, but you do have to get your work done. And that's all there is to it."
Q: Mitch Petrus' name had hardly been mentioned this season before he made an emergency start last Sunday. Do you periodically throughout a season go up to a player like Petrus and say, 'You have to make sure you stay ready, because you never know when we're going to need you?'
Coughlin: "It's a constant theme. Preparation is a constant theme. Preparation, meeting opportunity, is a constant theme, and there are many parables and highlighted stories to indicate the importance of that. We have one, a living story, a living proof of that right here within our midst in terms of a young man who came to the stadium and didn't even know he was going to get a suit. Not only did he get a suit, he played the whole game at left guard."
Q: He said that Coach (Pat) Flaherty told him that he was playing. Did you also talk to him prior to the game? Or did you think you might make him nervous if you did?
Coughlin: "It wasn't anything about nerves. I just encouraged him. And the other players really helped. (Chris) Snee said to me, 'We'll be alright.' And he was right."
Q: Victor Cruz has well over 1,000 yards and he's on pace to set the franchise record for receiving yards in a season. He's been your most productive receiver - and at the end of training camp, we wondered if he was going to make the team. What did we miss with Cruz?
Coughlin: "We saw it. You saw it last year in the preseason against the Jets (when Cruz scored three touchdowns). This preseason was not nearly as memorable for Victor. He didn't have any great games. He really didn't have a lot of great practices. I think what he did is he matured and he grew up. He saw when (Brandon) Stokley came in here (in September, ostensibly to be the slot receiver) that this was a business. This is not a fraternity. This is the real deal here. And he saw that, 'You know what, I could be on the next bus out of here.' It's about production, and he bore down and he didn't get many opportunities then. Then when Stokley was injured (and eventually released), he got his chance and he took full advantage of it. To his credit, he's continued to do that, continued to work hard, continued to be humble, and realized that there's another young man – it took a while, I'll be the first one to tell you – but eventually when the opportunity came he did take advantage of it. I mean the Philadelphia game just jumps out at you, the first game down there (Cruz scored two touchdowns). He made, first of all, the first big play he made was right into a blitz, which we always preach about big plays into the blitz. And there was a great example."
Q: Eli Manning has a chance to pass for 5,000 yards. We talked about Victor. Are you a passing team now?
Coughlin: "I think balance is the key. Believe me, I really do. I don't think you're going to win being one-sided. I don't think anybody here does. You have to take the pressure off the quarterback some way. It can't be an every-down situation. But we've been able to have some success throwing the ball and it's obviously first and foremost due to the quarterback and the protection. So we take full advantage of whatever the weapons that we have are. It certainly has turned in that direction, but I still do philosophically believe in balance."
Q: We talked last week after Chase Blackburn was signed and you said that he knows what he's doing and has a smile on his face and plays hard all the time. And then the game came and he did everything that you said he was going to do. Is that a great example for all the young players?
Coughlin: "Tremendous example for the locker room, tremendous example. First of all, he had no animosity (about not being re-signed when training camp opened). When we worked him out, he was upbeat, had a big smile on his face, had an idea that he would be back here, also had an idea he might be someplace else. He worked out for a couple other places, but the day that he walks back in here, he's upbeat and he's the kind of guy that you better – you can see the energy, the positivity and the excitement there. The young guys, it's a great example for them. They see a guy who is a veteran football player, who's been through the wars and he's so excited about playing again. How can you miss it? Because in reality that's where it all starts. All these other things we build it up to be, it's the love of the game. It's the love of playing the game. It's the competitive aspect that you've had from day one. From the time you were a high school player, there's no other reinforcement. You weren't paid to play. You had to have a true love for what you were doing, and the more passion that's involved in this, the more successful the people are."
Q: Travis Beckum made a tremendous play to score the first touchdown last week. When the season started, everyone thought he was going to be the receiving tight end. He has caught only two passes – is it because Jake Ballard emerged or …
Coughlin: "No, Beckum got, unfortunately, the circumstance that's plagued him his entire career – he was hurt. He was hurt for awhile. He was hurt for a long time and wasn't practicing. So he missed out on a lot of opportunity for growth and development. We had a role for him, and in large part, that role was stifled at least for a couple of weeks and then Jake, some days, he might have been the only tight end. The same holds true for Bear (Pascoe). Bear went through that, too. He was the only tight end, and he benefitted by it."
Q: You do a lot of offseason study on all your opponents. When you don't play a team for the first time until Dec. 11, as you will in Dallas this week, how much has changed when you begin your game preparation?
Coughlin: "You've just got to go back and study where the people came from. You go and study Cleveland to study the (defensive) coordinator (Ron Ryan) and what he did, how his defense was constructed coaching in Cleveland. You do all of that work."
Q: Does any defense spend as much time or effort moving around prior to the snap to try to confuse the offense as Dallas'?
Coughlin: "There are a lot of teams that play that way. This team certainly causes you to really look for the tips that you need just strictly for personnel. Their personnel groups they bring in the game, they have a whole cupboard full of variety and they use them all."
Q: Is DeMarcus Ware a special player when you look at him on tape?
Coughlin: "Yes, and he's being fully utilized, too."
Q: On offense, is Jason Witten a unique tight end?
Coughlin: "Well, he has been for a long time. He's a security blanket for the quarterback. He makes an awful lot of plays, and he's in the middle of most everything. They also rely on him to help in protection, too. He seems like he's done a lot of that this year."
Q: I guess you don't need to be reminded what Dez Bryant can do, since he returned a punt 93 yards last season.
Coughlin: "You saw him do it in the Miami game. They rushed him out on the field at the end of the game, and he ran a punt back 20 yards and created half the field position they needed. He's powerful now. He's powerful and he's more explosive and faster than his timed speed, too."
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