Tom Coughlin's face looked chafed, only there was no Lambeau wind to blame.
Coughlin had fined his high-maintenance wide receiver. He benched him, suspended him, scolded him, talked to him, ignored him and called him out. He did everything but take him to Applebee's and call him Harris Smith.
Coughlin had 52 New York Giants pulling in one direction and Plaxico the other. The team gave him a contract extension and a hundred second chances anyway.
A 20-8 loss at Dallas Sunday is the reason. It featured nearly as many Eli Manning misses (17) as hits (18), eight sacks and just 218 net yards. It actually sounds better than it looked.
"It's not a good time to be playing that way," Coughlin said. "We have to look at everything."
Coughlin may not have wanted Plaxico around, but he knew the alternative. There's a difference between want and need and in the bottom-line NFL, it means hoping you can milk another Super Bowl out of a guy who considers accessorizing taking the time to tuck a loaded, unregistered .40-caliber Glock into his sweatpants.
It turns out Burress didn't just shoot himself in the leg Thanksgiving weekend. He may have shot the Giants' entire season in the foot.
The diva dividend is why on the other side of Texas Stadium, Wade Phillips and Tony Romo were shrugging off the latest Terrell Owens flare-up. Did he complain about not getting the ball enough? Did he think Romo was favoring tight end Jason Witten? Did he and Witten have words before being separated?
Sunday, it didn't matter. At least Owens was on the field.
"It is a family," Phillips said. "Brothers get in fights. But then they come back to their family and they fight for each other."
Owens had just three catches against the Giants, a meager statistical performance. It was more than enough. Burress grabbed 35 catches and four touchdowns this season, but a game-breaker at wideout changes the way defenses scheme during the week and set up during the game.
Witten's a great tight end. On the highlight that will get the analysts gushing – a critical, late-game third and 9 – he isn't getting one-on-one coverage from a safety he outweighs by 60 pounds, though, without Owens drawing so much attention.
For all his often comical controversies, Owens has never been the trouble of Burress. Plaxico is facing prison time, after all.
T.O. just wears out teammates and coaches. When he leaves, offenses don't get better, just worse. He's the annoyance you tend to miss on third and long.
The Giants (11-3) have more problems than just a lack of Plax. Brandon Jacobs was out with an injury, the Cowboys' defensive front dominated the line and this was a road game against a desperate playoff-caliber team. It's not like they got rolled by the Lions.
That's the NFL, though. Carolina visits Sunday intent on securing home-field advantage in the NFC. The playoffs loom soon after; quality team after quality team. There are no more games against Seattle to make the offense sans Burress appear better than ever.
This is the era of the super wideout; winning without one, no matter the antics, is difficult.
It's why Carolina welcomed back Steve Smith, who punched out a teammate in training camp. It's why Romo and Witten were making nice with Owens on national television.
It sure helps if you can get a burner who'll just catch passes. Next best is to create an environment where he's comfortable enough to coexist, such as Randy Moss in New England.
That's what Coughlin was seeking with Burress and Phillips continues to with Owens. Just get through another week. Just get through the season. Just get to the Super Bowl and all the feuds and fights will make for a colorful story one day.
"You can talk, you can do all this stuff," Romo said afterward. "But at the end of the day, when it's time to play football, it's time to play football."
Burress can't play, though. He's dealing with a gunshot wound and a district attorney, not double coverage and defensive backs.
"This is our team," Manning said. "This is who we've got."
It may not be enough. The headache Coughlin no longer has may prove more appealing than the one he does.
- Tom Coughlin
- New York Giants