The proponents of the “Tom Coughlin factor” entering Sunday’s AFC championship between the Patriots and Jaguars must answer one question: how will a red-faced 71-year-old man sitting in the owners’ box help Jacksonville win Sunday?
The Giants upset the Patriots in two Super Bowls under Coughlin’s leadership, unleashing a potent pass rush that punished Tom Brady without blitzing. Jacksonville’s defense, which recorded 55 sacks in the regular season, is capable of inflicting similar punishment.
Coughlin, who serves as the Jaguars’ executive vice president of football operations, deserves credit for putting this stellar defense together. Jacksonville signed Calais Campbell last offseason, teaming him with Malik Jackson, Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr. Together, the four pass-rushers accrued 42.5 sacks in 2017. Star cornerback and free agent signing A.J. Buoye didn’t allow a touchdown all season, until Steelers wideout Antonio Brown beat him twice with miraculous catches in the Divisional Round.
Like other executives, Coughlin made the bulk of his contributions in March. The Jaguars may terrorize Brady Sunday, but their success isn’t dependent on Coughlin sitting upstairs and furiously scribbling notes.
Every sports writer who cites Coughlin’s presence as some intangible factor Sunday relies on cliches and nonsense. The Boston Globe’s Tara Sullivan says everyone at Gillette Stadium will “shudder” at the sight of Coughlin, whom she calls the Patriots’ “football boogeyman.”
Sullivan’s admiration for Coughlin isn’t rooted in the Giants’ two Super Bowl victories, but rather their regular season loss to the Patriots in 2007. “Coughlin didn’t just go for broke that night, eschewing the popular trend of resting starters so as not to risk injury,” she writes. “He never even considered it, not for a moment surrendering the objective of every game he’s ever been involved in: winning. The Giants would end up on the wrong side of history anyway … but rather than be deflated, those Giants were emboldened, convinced by their competitiveness that a rematch would end differently.”
How that history ties into the Jaguars remains unclear. The Patriots went undefeated through Spygate and won a Super Bowl at the height of Deflategate. Yet somehow, Coughlin’s attendance is going to spook them. How asinine.
ESPN staffer writer Dan Graziano also mentions Coughlin in his game preview, asking if the Patriots can beat the curse. According to Graziano, Coughlin can regale the Jaguars all week with stories about how to slay the Patriots. Surely, he knows all of the secrets, such as the importance of pressuring Brady and containing Rob Gronkowski. Then again, Gronkowski was severely limited with an ankle injury when the Patriots and Giants met in Super Bowl XLVI, so maybe Coughlin wouldn’t be so helpful there.
In fact, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone says he hasn't even watched Coughlin's Super Bowl wins. It's difficult for somebody to glean information from games he hasn't seen.
It’s possible Coughlin is helping Marrone implement a game plan this week. But Coughlin’s Giants last beat the Patriots six years ago. The only players still in the Patriots’ starting lineup from that game are Brady, Gronkowski, Nate Solder, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung (and remember, Gronk was hindered during that contest). Nobody currently on the Jaguars played for that Giants team.
The media is tasked with building up the Jaguars, who are 9.5-point underdogs. But the Coughlin stuff is silly. Comparing Blake Bortles to Brady is more sensible.