A History of New York Giants Rookie Mistakes Under Head Coach Tom Coughlin
It's hard not to get excited for the NFL draft.
Next month, the Giants are slated to select seven new rookies—not including undrafted free agents. These new players will each play a part in New York's attempt at a turnaround in 2014. With the team in a state of reconstruction, some of these youngsters are bound to see playing time in their first season as professionals.
These impending additions give Giants fans good reason for optimism.
However, with head coach Tom Coughlin still calling the shots, it is wise to curb some of this enthusiasm. Coughlin doesn't normally trust rookies in roles requiring a high degree of responsibility. This tends to aggravate the fans, who are generally impatient when it comes to seeing New York's new draft picks get on the field.
So, is Coughlin just a grumpy, old worrywart, or are his concerns legitimate?
The evidence supporting his case is overwhelming. Almost every season since Coughlin took over as New York's head coach (2004), a rookie mistake or two has either cost or nearly cost the Giants a game. There are only 16 games in an NFL season, and no team can afford to drop one due to boneheaded inexperience.
This slideshow will highlight nine notable rookie mistakes that occurred on Coughlin's watch.
2005: RB Brandon Jacobs (Week 6 vs. Dallas Cowboys)
Brandon Jacobs ended up being one of the most reliable running backs in Giants history, but even he committed a game-changing rookie gaffe back in Week 6 of the 2005 season.
Trailing the Cowboys, 13-6, the Giants drove all the way down to the Dallas three-yard line late in the fourth quarter. As the goal-line and short-yardage specialist, a cold Jacobs was inserted into the game (no carries up until that point) to punch the ball in.
Instead, Cowboys safety Roy Williams punched the ball out.
After the deflating turnover, New York actually tied the game up at 13 points apiece only to fall to the Cowboys, 16-13, on a Jose Cortez field goal in overtime.
Paul Schwartz of the New York Post criticized Coughlin's decision to place the ball in the hands of a rookie at such a pivotal moment in the game, citing Jacobs' upright running style and failure to protect the ball as causes of the turnover.
2006: DE Mathias Kiwanuka (Week 12 vs. Tennessee Titans)
Defensive end/linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka is another successful Giant that suffered a particularly embarrassing rookie moment. Kiwanuka's occurred in Week 12 of the 2006 season, in a matchup with the Tennessee Titans.
On a desperation, 4th-and-10 play for the Titans—after the Giants had already begun to relinquish a 21-0 lead held at the outset of the fourth quarter—Kiwanuka reached Tennessee quarterback Vince Young in the backfield and seemingly had him in his grasp for what would have been a game-clinching sack.
Then, he just let him go.
Young went on to scramble for 19 yards and a first down, leading his Titans to an eventual 24-21 victory in the final minute of the game. Although the contest had been slipping away since the start of the final frame, the Kiwanuka play was particularly painful since it was one that could have effectively ended the game.
The next day's headline in the New York Post was "Tackling Dummy", as Kiwanuka explained that he thought Young had thrown the ball and let him go in fear of drawing a late-hit call.
2007: S Michael Johnson (Week 10 vs. Dallas Cowboys)
The Giants' rookie class of 2007 played a tremendous role in the team's playoff push toward a Super Bowl XLII victory, but there were rocky beginnings, especially for seventh-round safety Michael Johnson, in a Week 10 showdown with the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys were the top team in the division in 2007, and they were asserting their dominance over the Giants this November afternoon at the Meadowlands. Unlike the Jacobs and Kiwanuka mishaps, Johnson committed a series of costly mistakes, beginning with a 15-yard infraction for a late hit in the first half.
Sure, that error was dopey, but it did not alter the face of the game. However, later in the game, the Giants had cut into Dallas' lead, and a key 3rd-and-1 stop would have given the ball back to New York. That's when Johnson missed a potential punt-forcing tackle on Marion Barber, allowing him instead to scamper for a fresh set of downs.
On the following play, Johnson blew his coverage, gift-wrapping an easy 50-yard pitch-and-catch from Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to wide receiver Terrell Owens for a touchdown. Dallas' fourth-quarter lead swelled to 31-20 on that play—it would remain that way until the game's final gun sounded.
Coughlin said the "rookie errors" stood out in the wake of the loss, according to The Star-Ledger.
2008: LB Bryan Kehl (Week 3 vs. Cincinnati Bengals)
Linebacker Bryan Kehl's rookie mistake, which occurred against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3 of the 2008 season, was the exact type of mental error one would expect from a young, inexperienced player. Kehl was lucky enough to laugh this one off later, thanks to the quick thinking of a heady, veteran teammate.
The Giants were in the heat of a close, fourth-quarter battle with the Bengals when Kehl committed his mistake. With the Bengals backed up on their own end of the field, Kehl took off for the sideline before a first-down snap, thinking the defense was supposed to be in its nickel package, according to The Star-Ledger's report of the incident. Pro Bowl linebacker Antonio Pierce realized that the rookie was about to leave the platoon shorthanded and intentionally committed a five-yard encroachment infraction so New York could regroup.
Cincinnati could have taken serious advantage of the Giants' 10-man defense for a deep strike, if Pierce wasn't so quick to act. Even though the Bengals eventually tied the game on that drive—only to lose it, 26-23, in overtime—a big play at the time of Kehl's blunder could have completely swung momentum in the Bengals' favor.
This mistake was a mere speed bump in New York's 11-1 start to the 2008 season.
2009: LT Will Beatty (Week 16 vs. Carolina Panthers)
While Kehl's mistake was a momentary mental lapse, left tackle Will Beatty's rookie "mistake" was more like a 60-minute nightmare. Facing the Carolina Panthers in Week 16 of the 2009 season, the 24-year-old Beatty had the nearly impossible task of slowing down perennial Pro-Bowler Julius Peppers.
Peppers and the Panthers couldn't be stopped, as Carolina ran away with a 41-9 victory.
Beatty struggled mightily with his matchup. Peppers recorded three solo tackles, two of which were for a loss of yardage. He also registered one sack and one quarterback hit against Beatty. Even when Peppers wasn't getting loose, the Panthers blitzed other players at Beatty, like linebacker Jon Beason, who recorded a sack of his own.
The steady harassment was twisted into a "blessing" by Beatty, according to The Star-Ledger.
Many frustrated Giants fans, who, at the time, were watching their team collapse down the stretch yet again, probably described Beatty's rookie outing a little differently.
2010: P Matt Dodge (Week 15 vs. Philadelphia Eagles)
Do I really need to go here?
2011: CB Prince Amukamara (Week 15 vs. Washington Redskins)
Prince Amukamara has developed into a reliable starting cornerback since becoming a first-round draft choice in 2011. His rookie season was a rough one, though, as he was benched in a Week 15 matchup against the Washington Redskins.
Amukamara was picked apart by none other than Rex Grossman. The mediocre Redskins passer targeted New York's young cornerback several times in key situations during the first half of play. Amukamara allowed Grossman to convert a 4th-and-1 in front of him, then, five plays later, Santana Moss got behind him on a 20-yard touchdown strike.
After giving up a 16-yard completion to Jabar Gaffney, allowing Washington to convert on what should have been a hopeless 3rd-and-14 situation, New York decided to keep its rookie corner on the sideline for the second half.
The decision to bench Amukamara was made too little too late, as the Redskins cruised through the second half to only their fifth win of the season—a 23-10 beatdown of the eventual Super Bowl champions.
2012: RB David Wilson (Week 1 vs. Dallas Cowboys)
Many fans want to see the Giants new draft picks get into the mix immediately. Running back David Wilson's professional debut, during a Week 1 clash with the Dallas Cowboys in 2012, should serve as a reminder that early implementation is not always the best plan of attack.
Billed as an electric playmaker all offseason, Wilson's first touch of the regular season was much anticipated by those who longed for his explosive impact. His first carry, on New York's second drive of the game, was a three-yard gain; his second, also his last, resulted in a fumble.
Poor ball security—a cardinal sin in Coughlin's offense—was Wilson's first rookie mistake. The inability to control his emotions on the sideline after being benched was his next fatal faux pas.
A year later, again against the Cowboys in the season opener, Wilson doubled up on his original rookie blunder by fumbling twice and getting benched yet again.
The Giants lost both games to their division rival.
2012: CB Jayron Hosley (Week 9 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers)
It become apparent that the Giants were not going to repeat as Super Bowl champions when they played the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9 of the 2012 season, as the team's late-game magic had clearly worn away.
New York was a team used to making comebacks, but, against the Steelers, a late penalty committed by then-rookie cornerback Jayron Hosley instead helped blow a three-point lead in the fourth quarter.
With less than nine minutes to play, New York stopped Pittsburgh short of a first down on a 3rd-and-7. However, a flag was thrown against the Giants, as Hosley had lined up in the neutral zone before the snap. The Steelers' drive was kept alive by Hosley's rookie mistake, and three plays later, Pittsburgh running back Isaac Redman plunged across the goal line for the game-winning touchdown.
Even though New York still led the NFC East with a 6-3 record following the 24-20 loss to Pittsburgh, the Giants only won three of seven games the rest of the way. Big Blue finished the season with a 9-7 record, falling one-game shy of the 10-6 mark posted by that year's NFC East champions, the Washington Redskins.
Sometimes, a rookie mistake can make all the difference.