EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It was the kind of hit that Jason Pierre Paul and Justin Tuck delivered on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez all game long, but when New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was taken out by Giants running back D.J. Ware, he didn't feel any pain. He was down for a few moments and appeared stunned, but he got right back up, a smile appearing through his grimace.
The sideline collision between head coach and player came in the fourth quarter of the Giants 29-14 win on Saturday afternoon over the New York Jets and it didn't hurt much for Coughlin, whose team was under a verbal assault from their opponent for much of the week. After a Josh Baker five-yard touchdown pass put the Giants down early in the first quarter, Coughlin's men responded much like their coach did when he was taken down by Ware.
They got up and fought back, a team that on Saturday afternoon at MetLife Stadium embraced Coughlin's "No toughness, no championship" mantra.
"I am never better. Nobody is worried about how fast I am and nobody was ever worried about that, as a matter of fact. I got it on the knee but I think it is up higher," Coughlin said." You can imagine what the players said when they went by, 'no toughness no championship.' I said, 'You are exactly right'."
Now suddenly, the Giants are a win away from being 9-7 and winning the NFC East. It hasn't been a pretty season for the Giants or for anyone in what is the most balanced division in football, but a team picked by many to be playoff outsiders suddenly has the look and feel of a team heading for bigger and better.
Coughlin won't need an MRI but as he limped towards Jets head coach Rex Ryan for the post-game handshake, it was the Giants who finally quieted Ryan, who was filled with bluster all week long. After hearing Ryan talk for seven days about wanting to win bragging rights in New York — Coughlin said "I'm not going to get into all of that" — the win on Sunday vindicated the Giants head coach and his method for building a team.
His opponent on Christmas Eve spent the offseason with big name acquisitions and supposedly key re-signings. The Giants have a few star players but their New York counterparts stacked up on marquee names that have failed miserably to compete with the upper echelon in the AFC. In fact, the Giants chose not to re-sign several star players this past August, instead going with younger albeit unproven talent. His low key players may not sell many tickets or jerseys, but right now, they're winning games and are poised to take the NFC East.
Winning the division is something the Jets haven't done since 2002.
The handshake between the two head coaches was brief, but even in pain Coughlin had to pause for a moment to reflect on what his team — and their toughness — proved on Sunday. The once unflappable Jets are now left only with their jaws flapping and they likely are out the playoffs; the Giants under Coughlin appear poised for something special.
"I was very excited that we won, I was happy for our fans and our owners. Of course, I allowed myself a moment to get caught up in the season with a thought as well, Coughlin said. "It was a hard fought game and it was a battle. We wanted it to be and obviously the game to decide it and it did decide it that way."
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer