One of Tom Coughlin’s biggest challenges before the season started was to instill badly needed confidence in the New York Giants.
With a matchup against the Bill Parcells-coached Dallas Cowboys looming, Coughlin’s priority now is making sure his resurgent team isn’t too sure of itself.
The Giants, winners of three in a row, travel to Texas Stadium to take on their NFC East rivals, who come off their bye week looking for a third straight victory.
The rejuvenated Giants, 4-12 last year, continued to build momentum with a 14-7 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday. Tiki Barber rushed for 182 yards as the club continued to put a nine-game losing streak, including a defeat in its season opener, in the rearview mirror.
Coughlin, the first-year coach who initially clashed with his players over his disciplined style and lengthy list of rules, has his team motivated, playing strong fundamental football and contending for the division lead.
“We have a long way to go to be the type of football team we want to be,” he said Monday. “We have a lot of improvement that can be accomplished, and I like their attitude in looking at that.”
The biggest improvement for the Giants has been in turnover ratio, something Coughlin preaches and has successfully ingrained in his team. New York won the turnover battle against Green Bay 3-1 and leads the NFL with a plus-10 turnover margin, a season after tying for last in the league at minus-16. The team has an NFL-best 13 takeaways.
“Three-and-one means nothing this early in the year,” linebacker Carlos Emmons said. “If you don’t continue to play well and continue to win games at the end of the year you’ll be on the outside looking in.”
For the Giants to match their best start since 1993, they’ll have to beat a Cowboys team coached by Coughlin’s mentor, Parcells, who had Coughlin on his Giants staff as wide receivers coach from 1988-90.
In fact, Parcells thinks so highly of his former assistant that after taking over the Cowboys, he let the recently unemployed Coughlin know a spot was always waiting for him in Dallas before Coughlin signed on with the Giants.
“Whatever he wanted to do, I would have done,” Parcells said. “I told him he could have a job as long as I’m alive.”
New York has lost 10 of its last 13 visits to Texas Stadium.
The game will also feature a pair of aging quarterbacks off to good starts.
“I think the bottom line is there are still a lot of guys that have been told they are too old and too slow and they can’t do it anymore, and they can still do it. I think there are some teams who understand that, and there are other teams that don’t.”
Warner has completed 77 of 114 passes for 908 yards with two touchdowns and just one interception. He has the offense moving in and out of the huddle quickly, and he’s making good decisions on the field.
“I just think around the league there are a number of those guys that continue to show up and let people know, ‘I can play this game, whether I am 25 or I am 40,’ ” Warner said. “I know the game well enough and can play and not make mistakes and help my team win.”
Testaverde has been doing the same for the Cowboys since getting the job after Quincy Carter was released.
Testaverde’s statistics are similar to those of Warner, with 66 completions in 114 attempts for 891 yards. He has three touchdown passes and three interceptions, and has surpassed 300 yards in two of his three games.
Testaverde downplayed his passing statistics this season, noting a big part of his success coincides with playing for Parcells, his coach with the Jets.
“I know this system inside out, so with that alone I feel much more confident than I had the last couple of years,” Testaverde said.
Dallas will be back home after defeating Parcells’ long-time coaching rival, Washington’s Joe Gibbs, at FedEx Field on Sept. 27. Richie Anderson threw a halfback option pass to Terry Glenn for a touchdown in the fourth quarter as the Cowboys beat the Redskins 21-18.
Testaverde was 14-of-29 for 214 yards as the Cowboys managed to hold on after Anderson’s TD pass gave them an 11-point lead.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Parcells said. “But we’re happy to win on the road. Anytime you can come some place on a Monday night, in a rivalry like this, and you’re able to win, you have to be happy.”
Parcells will be looking to improve his record against his former team to 4-1 as Dallas tries to move past New York for second place in the division. The Cowboys won both meetings last year, including a stunning 35-32 overtime victory in which the Giants blew a three-point lead after kicking off with 11 seconds left in regulation.
The Cowboys are beginning a key four-game stretch that includes home games against three teams playing well (the Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions) and one road game against a team that isn’t (Green Bay).