The head coach didn't care that he'd conducted only 11 practices since the end of last season, his starters played about a quarter and much of the second half featured players who likely won't be wearing a Giants uniform a month from now. No, for Coughlin the evening's salient truth was a 20-10 defeat to the Carolina Panthers in Bank of America Stadium.
Meaningless preseason game? Not to Coughlin.
"It's a disappointing loss," Coughlin said. "Anytime you lose it's disappointing … we would have liked to have seen everybody play better, but it didn't happen."
Although the players said it was great to play a game after the long, locked-out offseason, they seemed to lack a spark for much of the evening. The Giants did not score an offensive touchdown, gave up critical big plays on defense and missed three field goal attempts (one a 56-yarder and the last a 44-yard try that was blocked and left Lawrence Tynes with a thigh contusion).
"We just didn't have a lot of energy out there," said Ahmad Bradshaw, who rushed for 21 yards on five carries. "I can see where (Coughlin) is coming from. Then again, it is the first game."
"He just wants to get the best out of us," cornerback Corey Webster said. "We could have been a little more crisp, could have paid a little more attention to detail. This week, we have to watch the tape, learn from it and get better."
The Giants' lone touchdown was scored by linebacker Michael Boley, who returned an interception 56 yards for a touchdown on the game's first series. The irony is that the Giants led the NFL with 39 takeaways in 2010, but were one of just four teams not to score a defensive touchdown.
Tynes' 37-yard field goal late in the second quarter was the only other score for the Giants, who were shutout in the second half.
Carolina scored on a pair of touchdown passes – an 18-yarder from Jimmy Clausen to Greg Olsen in the first quarter and a 35-yarder from Derek Anderson to Kealoha Pilares in the fourth – and two Olindo Mare field goals.
Including Boley's touchdown, the starting defense played four series in the first quarter and surrendered 90 yards, four first downs and a touchdown on an 18-yard pass from Clausen to Olsen. The first unit prevented Carolina from converting any of its four third down opportunities in the quarter.
The Eli Manning-led starting offense played the first five series for a total of 18 plays. The unit gained 79 yards, but its possessions ended with Tynes' slightly short 56-yard try and four punts.
"We didn't get off to a great start," said Manning, who completed four of nine passes for 36 yards. "We didn't make any critical mistakes, didn't turn the ball over, so those are positives. But we were never able to get into a great rhythm. We missed a few opportunities and made a couple mental mistakes. Those are the things that kept us from keeping drives alive."
The Giants do have plenty of positives to take into their next week of practice (they don't play again until Aug. 22 at home against Chicago). Jason Pierre-Paul had two sacks. Domenik Hixon, in his first game action since the end of the 2009 season, had team-high totals of five receptions for 86 yards. Backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels completed 13 of 19 passes, including three for 23 yards to Devin Thomas. Punters Matt Dodge and Steve Weatherford had combined averages of 48.1 yards (gross) and 39.4 yards (net).
The Giants started well. On the fourth play from scrimmage, Boley, the weakside linebacker, picked off a Clausen pass intended for DeAngelo Williams and was well ahead of the field on his entire 56-yard sprint to the end zone. The Giants led, 7-0, just 2:03 into the game and before their offense had taken a snap.
"I really just dropped into zone coverage," Boley said. "I saw the whole thing. The quarterback really zoned in on the running back. The ball was thrown and the running back hadn't turned around yet. He threw it in my zone, he really threw it right to me. It was a great way to start the preseason for the defense by putting some points on the board."
But instead of using Boley's big play to generate momentum, the Giants fizzled. They did force the Panthers to go three-and-out on the ensuing possession – thanks in part to Pierre-Paul's nine-yard sack on third down – but their first offensive series ended when Tynes' long field attempt fell short.
The Panthers needed only three plays and 58 seconds to travel 54 yards. Clausen connected with Williams for 16 yards, Williams ran for 20 up the middle and Olsen scored when he caught caught the ball in the end zone despite safety Tyler Sash being in very close proximity. That evened the score at 7-7 with 7:42 remaining in the first quarter.
The Giants never held the ball for more than four plays on any of their next four series.
"We had the interception for the score," Coughlin said. "It's the same old thing – you can make something very good happen for our team by scoring again right there and we didn't do it. It's disappointing."
"We got a big interception return from Boley and that should have gotten us going in all three phases of the game," Bradshaw said. "We just didn't put it together. It was a very enthusiastic play and it should have had everybody ready to go after that. It just didn't happen."
Two field goals by Mare and one by Tynes left the Giants with a 13-10 halftime deficit.
The only score in the second half was Anderson's touchdown pass to Pilares with 7:15 remaining in the game, a time when third-stringers from both sides were on the field.
A more significant play might have occurred four minutes earlier, when Tynes' 44-yard try to tie the game was blocked by Sean Ware, whose helmet then collided with the kicker's leg.
"Hopefully, Lawrence will be – they say it's a thigh contusion and I'm hoping that's basically what it is," Coughlin said. "Hopefully he gets over that as fast as he possibly can and gets back out there."
In the meantime, the Giants have both the room and the time to get better.
"We'll improve from this," Coughlin said. "We'll definitely improve from this. There are some people who are upset with the way they played and how it looks once they look at the tape. There's a lot of pride in that room."
They can put it to good use beginning Monday at practice.