Friend or foe?
The Jacksonville Jaguars will head to Foxborough Massachusetts this Sunday to play in the AFC Championship game vs the New England Patriots. For the Patriots, this place is all too familiar. For the 7th consecutive season the Patriots will play on championship Sunday and it will be the 12th AFC championship game under the Belichick and Brady era. For the Jaguars, this is relatively new territory. Blake Bortles has been the pun of every QB joke over the last three seasons and the jaguars as a franchise has been rivaling the inept Cleveland Browns as the premier laughing stock of the NFL. So what has sparked such a drastic turnaround for the franchise? Tom Coughlin. And Coughlin is no stranger to the big stage, as a matter of fact, Tom Coughlin vs Belichick on the big stage is well, Coughlin’s comfort zone.
Tom Coughlin’s NFL coaching career started in Philadelphia as the wide receivers coach. Four years later he became the wide receivers coach for the New York Giants where Bill Belichick was the defensive coordinator under head coach Bill Parcells (one hell of a coaches locker room). The two coordinators would move on from their respective positions in the organization in the 90’s. Belichick went on to coach the Cleveland Browns for a few years before ultimately reuniting with his old boss Bill Parcells in New England in 1996 as the assistant head coach and secondary coach.
Coughlin became the inaugural head coach for the newly established expansion team Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995. In 1996, Coughlin took the jaguars to the AFC championship game where they face Parcells, Belichick, and company. The Patriots won the game as teacher and protégé 1 edged protégé 2. Parcells and Belichick moved on to the jets from 1997 to 1999 when in 2000 Belichick finally got his second opportunity to be a head coach this time for Robert Kraft and the New England Patriots. Coughlin stayed in Jacksonville but was eventually fired after 3 consecutive losing seasons. Coughlin’s second shot to be a head coach came two years later when he was hired by the New York Giants. Three years later, the Belichick Coughlin saga was officially born.
In Week 17 of the 2007 season the New England Patriots led by Head Coach Bill Belichick faced off vs Coughlin’s Giants. The Patriots came in a perfect 15-0 and quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Randy Moss were orchestrating the greatest single season QB-WR duo in NFL history and at the time the most historic offense in NFL history. Coughlin and the Giants made it known in the week they will play this game and they will play to win, and the Pats were just as determined to complete the first 16-0 regular season in NFL history. So yeah, a lot was at stake. The game was close throughout, and the Giants would take the Patriots 15 rounds. The Patriots were down by two scores late in the third but a rushing touchdown late in the quarter trimmed the deficit, and a record passing and receiving touchdown by Brady and Moss roughly 4 minutes into the 4th quarter gave the Patriots the lead. The game ended when the Giants failed to recover and onside kick and lost the game 38-35.
A few weeks later destiny intervened and setup a rematch of the two this time on the world’s grandest stage, Super Bowl 42. The Patriots one win away from immortality, one win away from accomplishing the impossible, one win away from being the single greatest team in NFL history without a shadow of a doubt. Standing in their way were the Giants. It was David vs Goliath. The Giants once again took the mighty Patriots 15 rounds, this time they delivered the knockout blow, and for Patriots fans it was a brutal 1,2 blow. Eli Manning threw the football deep down the field after Houdini helped him escape the grips of the Patriots pass rush, and AL from Angels in the outfield flew down and help David Tyree leap 15 feet into the air where he caught the ball going to the ground with his helmet. Okay so Houdini and AL weren’t there, allegedly….but how else would you want me to explain the luckiest and most brilliant play in NFL history? Following the now infamous “Helmet Catch” Eli Manning found Plaxico Burress wide open near the endzone on a corner route and consequently delivering the final blow to the New England Patriots. The Patriots had one final chance to answer but with little time on the clock and one timeout, they would’ve need a prayer or two themselves. A heaving throw to Randy Moss just came off his fingertips and sealed the game.
The Giants had beaten Immortal Patriots. Four years later, the Patriots made it back to the super bowl after four years of underachieving including a home playoff loss to the Jets in 2010. Awaiting the Patriots in Super Bowl 46, the New York Giants and Tom Coughlin. Redemption was the storyline for New England. For the Giants, it was affirming the belief it was not luck that guided them to triumph. This game wasn’t a classic like the 2007 brawls, and while the sequel did disappoint, the end result was still the same. The Giants played a physical game for 60 minutes and edged out the Patriots yet again. Fast forward to 2018, Bill Belichick has won two more super bowls and tom Coughlin after being fired by the giants in 2016 is back where his head coaching career began as the Vice President of Football Operations for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The two old foes have a date with destiny yet again. Tom Coughlin has played a major role in not only constructing the Jaguars current roster but also with what happens on Sundays. You can see his fingerprints all over this Jaguars team, a furious front four anchoring an opportunistic defense to say the least and a physical ground and pound run game. The final chapter is yet to be written in this saga, and Sunday afternoon at 3:05 eastern standard time, the former Parcells students will put their best 53 vs each other.
Perhaps Coughlin has the blueprint to beat Belichick, but perhaps the Patriots have figured it out and constructed a counter attack. The previous matchups were determined ultimately by the ability of Coughlin’s Giants to generate pressure with their front four. However New England has found the antidote to that with a quick passing game. The blueprint for that was set when the Patriots played the great Seattle defense in Super Bowl 49. Tom Brady dropped back 50 times in that game and by the 4th quarter the pass rushers for Seattle were tired and New England erased the Seahawks 10-point lead eventually winning the game 28-24 and capturing the long coveted 4th Lombardi Trophy for Belichick and Brady. I expect the same game plan going into this game. Either way, it should be a great chess match between two of the greatest football minds we’ve seen and another great chapter added to a rivalry that started in the racquetball room of the Giants facilities in 1988.