There was a great hue and cry after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seemed to lose the NFL's "code book" at the end of their 41-34 loss to the New York Giants. Instead of allowing Giants quarterback Eli Manning to take a knee and run out the clock after Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman had thrown an interception to seemingly seal the result, Tampa Bay acted as if the final play of the game was very much in contention. That got new Bucs head coach Greg Schiano an earful from Giants head coach Tom Coughlin right after the game, and Coughlin elaborated in his postgame press conference.
"I don't think you do that," Coughlin said. "You don't do that in this league. Not only that, you jeopardize the offensive line, you jeopardize the quarterback. Thank goodness we didn't get anybody hurt — that I know of. A couple of linemen were late getting in."
Of course, Schiano defended his approach. "I don't know if that's not something that's done in the National Football League. What I do with our football team is that we fight until they tell us, 'game over.' And there's nothing dirty about it, there's nothing illegal about it. We crowd the ball like a sneak defense and try to knock it loose. If people watched Rutgers, they would know that's what we do at the end of a game. We're not going to quit, that's just the way I coach and teach our players. If some people are upset about it, that's just the way it goes. I don't have any hesitation. That's the way we play. We play clean, hard football until they tell us the game is over.'"
If you ask ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski about that approach, as Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic did on Monday's ESPN Radio program, you'd get a very different take than the one Coughlin brought to the table. Jaworski, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles and three other teams in his 15-year NFL career, said that one of the most famous plays in football history was set up by an approach similar to Schiano's.
"There's no doubt that Tom Coughlin owes Greg Schiano an apology for the way he reacted after the game," Jaworski said. "And I will give you a real-life example of why. Remember the 'Miracle at the Meadowlands' with [Giants quarterback] Joe Pisarcik? Very similar play before the Pisarcik-Csonka fumble. The Giants were in victory formation, and Frank LeMaster, our linebacker, fires off [at the snap]. We were taught by [Eagles then-head coach] Dick Vermeil to play until the game is over. All of a sudden, a big shoving match ensues. The only thing the Giants had to do was take a knee, and the game was over. But their coach, Bob Gibson, was on the sideline, angry because of what we did. They called a play to try and get a hit on our defense. Lo and behold, Larry Csonka thought Pisarcik was taking a knee, [Eagles defensive back] Herman Edwards picks up the ball, and we won the football game.
"So, the Eagles win a game, go 9-7 that year, and go to the playoffs, all because of a play that was almost identical to what happened [Sunday]. You play to the end of the game."
Herm Edwards, the man who ran that fumble in for a touchdown, would most certainly agree.
As would fellow old-schooler Mike Ditka, who started in on the subject with Greenberg and Golic without any prompting.
"Tom's wrong about this," Ditka said. "You never go out with the intent to hurt anybody, but you do try to get the ball. As soon as the center snaps the ball, you try to create a fumble. Who knows what can happen, as crazy as the game is today? The game's still going on. Greg Schiano is bringing a different temperament to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and I like what he's doing. I really do. They're going to be a good team, because they do the little things. This is not a popularity contest -- he doesn't care what Tom Coughlin thinks of him."
In the end, Coughlin's reaction may have been more about one alpha dog testing another. He wanted to see how the new guy would react, and now, Schiano's mettle has been proven. He's set a tone, the narrative tells us, and this is a good thing. Of course, what he's going to do about a defense that gave up 25 points in the fourth quarter and 22 in the final seven minutes is another matter ... but as the coach himself would probably tell you, it's the little things that count.
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