At 0-4, the New York Giants are in full-on free fall, fresh off their second straight blowout loss.
As the Giants' season circles the drain, the buzzards have begun circling the team. Grumbling is growing. Fingers are being pointed.
At least one prominent Giants player has made one thing clear: Point one of those fingers in the direction of head coach Tom Coughlin, and you just might lose it.
That, or some teeth.
That prominent player is defensive end Justin Tuck, who didn't mince words when speaking with Gary Myers of The New York Daily News:
If anyone turns on our coach, I would be the first one to punch him in the mouth. And put that in print. It better not happen, I know that.
Tuck's pugilistic proclamation comes in the same article where wide receiver Victor Cruz questioned Coughlin's decision to punt on 4th-and-1 from the New York 30 in the third quarter of a three-point game Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs:
I thought we should have gone for it on that fourth down, Cruz said. It’s coach’s call at the end of the day.
From their own 30 down three?
If it was me? Yes. Because we had the momentum, Cruz said. I felt it was a yard, not even a yard, half a yard, we’ve got to take a risk at some point and make something happen.
I asked Cruz if that indicates a lack of confidence in the offense by Coughlin?
I don’t know. It was Coach’s decision. I’m not getting in Coach’s head, he said. It was Coach’s decision to do what he has to do. He’s the head honcho. He makes the call and I just go out there and abide by his rules.
Tuck admitted that in the heat of the moment the defense wanted the Giants to go for it too, but conceded that in hindsight it would have been the wrong move, stating “Who goes on fourth and inches at the 30 when you’re in a dogfight?”
Of course, it didn't help that Dexter McCluster returned the ensuing punt 89 yards for a touchdown, opening the floodgates for what quickly became a rout.
Tom Rock of Newsday reports that Cruz and Coughlin have cleared the air, with Coughlin saying "I asked him if he wanted to fight," before adding "It was in good humor."
Cruz had better watch it. It looks like it won't be Coughlin he'll be fighting.
Kidding aside, it's not surprising that Tuck would stick up for his coach. After all, Tuck has maintained his defensive captaincy (and job) despite laboring through several injury-marred and unproductive seasons.
Coughlin was loyal to Tuck, and now Tuck is repaying the favor.
The question looming over the Giants right now is whether Tuck's teammates will follow suit.
Make no mistake. The New York Giants are a dumpster fire right now, off to their worst start in nearly three decades.
This is a team that's at a fork in the road, and the path it takes may well determine Coughlin's future in the Big Apple.
Granted, a playoff appearance all but certainly isn't happening:
However, if the Giants rally around Coughlin (and one another) and at least get back into the fight, then the 67-year-old will (assuming he's willing) return in 2014, albeit to a significantly hotter seat.
After all, we're talking about a two-time Super Bowl winner, a man who led the Jacksonville Jaguars to within one game of the Super Bowl twice, including in the franchise's second year of existence.
With that said, though, if the Giants continue to flounder, then a familiar refrain is going to start up again.
That refrain being that the Giants have "quit" on Tom Coughlin.
As Grantland's Bill Barnwell pointed out back in 2011, this has become a nearly annual ritual with the Giants. At the first sign of trouble, out comes the storyline that the team has quit on its head coach.
As a matter of fact, Barnwell's article was published just before Big Blue began the run that would culminate in New York's second Super Bowl title under Coughlin.
Coughlin may make for a convenient scapegoat, but he's hardly the cause of all New York's problems in 2013 (unless he's playing offensive guard in disguise).
That doesn't make it impossible that Coughlin's lost the team.
It happens to the best of coaches. It happened to Tom Landry in Dallas. More recently, Andy Reid's tenure in Philadelphia ended badly, but if this year's Kansas City Chiefs are any indication, Reid hasn't forgotten how to coach.
NFL coaches have a shelf life.
It may well be that Coughlin's "old school" style just isn't resonating anymore with many players in the New York locker room. It could also be that at 67, Coughlin's fire just doesn't burn as brightly as it once did.
It doesn't take away from his accomplishments as a coach, but the fact is that through four games the Giants are a team adrift, and on some level the responsibility for that falls on Coughlin and his staff.
We'll find out over the next month or so, and in any event the Giants aren't going to can Coughlin in-season.
However, how the Giants respond to this tailspin over the next month or so will likely go a long way towards determining whether or not Tom Coughlin is on the sidelines next year.
In the interim, players had better toe the line and seal their lips.
Or the lunchtime practice menu is going to consist of Uncle Justin's knuckle sandwiches.