The 2013 season was a forgettable one for the New York Giants.
In its ending, however, there was hope for the future.
The Giants' 7-9 final record marked head coach Tom Coughlin's first losing season since 2004—his first season in New York.
Coughlin's job is safe for the 2014 season, according to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports (via Giants 101).
New York's Week 17 win over the Washington Redskins—a sloshy, 20-6 scuffle—completed a 10-game stretch in which Coughlin's Giants won seven contests.
After dropping each of the first six games of the season, the 0-6 Giants battled back to lose just three more games for the remainder of the year.
|A Giant Turnaround|
Through those 10 games, despite an ever-present air of embarrassment, Coughlin's position as the team's head coach has solidified—for at least another year.
Some will certainly share their criticism of Coughlin after this '13 season and its injury-riddled finale against the 'Skins in the rain. The sloppy battle yielded significant casualties; most notably the Giants' two remaining producers at wide receiver, Hakeem Nicks (ankle) and Rueben Randle (knee); New York's blockbuster left tackle Will Beatty (leg); and even the hero of Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, Eli Manning (ankle).
The Manning injury was particularly nauseating for Giants fans. With only a minute remaining in the first half, a Washington defender rolled up on the New York signal-caller's left leg.
Manning is notorious for his consecutive starts streak, which has now eclipsed 150 games. The iron QB is one of the league's healthiest, making him a valued commodity in today's NFL.
So, why would Coughlin seemingly gamble his team's fortunes on a meaningless Week 17 game with no playoff implications?
It's his will to win.
The Giants still have it, astoundingly. One must assume the team's cohesive nature stems from strong leadership, which starts, of course, with Coughlin.
In the ultimate defense of their leader, some Giants suggest that the players are solely to blame for this year's meltdown. Safety Antrel Rolle, New York's most outspoken on-field leader, is one of those players, according to a CBS New York report from two weeks ago:
Coach Coughlin can’t take any of this blame. I won’t allow that. He can’t take any of this blame. Coaches coach, and they did a phenomenal job getting us prepared for this. We had a great week of practice, everything that we saw out there from their offense we went over with our coaches, defensive coordinator. They did an exceptional job preparing us. Coach Coughlin, he’s the coach — but he can’t coach heart. He can’t make a player have heart, he can’t make a player have passion about this game and that’s what we were lacking out there today. Coach can say what he wants but personally I won’t allow him to take that.
Coughlin has earned the respect of his players, and that is partially due to the all-in competitiveness he exudes on a weekly basis. He wants to win every game—even the most inconsequential.
For example, take the Week 17 matchup with the New England Patriots from 2007. Locked into the No. 5 seed, the Giants played all of their starters under Coughlin's orders. New York battled to the bitter end with an undefeated Patriots squad, against whom the G-Men would stake revenge for that 38-35 loss.
Legendary coach and broadcaster John Madden called it "one of the best things to happen in the NFL in the last ten years," according to Giants.com.
It is because Coughlin values each game—regardless of his team's record or playoff standing—that his players have stuck together through a tumultuous season.
There is no such thing as a "meaningless" game to Coughlin.
While the injuries to Manning, Randle, Nicks and Beatty were calamitous, they were not injured in vain.
If the Giants sat Manning, in an attempt to preserve his health, and activated Ryan Nassib to get the rookie a few reps, who knows if a Julian Talley or Dallas Reynolds would have been active to fill in at wide receiver or offensive line, respectively?
It just so happened that the Giants did need a Talley and a Reynolds against the Redskins, and without them, win No. 7 would have been much harder to come by.
And that's Coughlin's ultimate goal—to make each game as winnable as possible.
In the final 10 games of the season, with a 7-3 record over that duration, the Giants proved that their head coach still has the winning formula.
More importantly, these Giants—or what's left of them after this offseason—are still interested in following it.
Kevin is a New York Giants Game-Day Correspondent and Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter here.