By PAUL SCHWARTZ
Just before sitting down in the middle section of the charter flight back from Atlanta, Tom Coughlin was approached by Jon Berger, the Giants’ senior director of football information. Earlier, Coughlin’s wildly inconsistent team had been pulverized by the Falcons 34-0 and the loss separated the Giants from controlling their destiny as far as winning the NFC East.
Berger informed Coughlin that, despite the loss, the Giants still were in the driver’s seat as far as making the playoffs via the wild card route. Win their final two games — at Baltimore this Sunday, home against the Eagles in the regular-season finale — and the Giants are assured of no worse than an NFC wild-card berth.
“I actually questioned it because the six [teams] are in front of us, at this point in time, so I questioned it,’’ Coughlin said yesterday, “and was very, very careful not to say anything to anyone until I was absolutely sure of what the situation was.’’
The news was presented by Coughlin during a morning team meeting to players he described as “kind of sullen.’’ The Giants in no way resembled a team that had any business thinking of the playoffs, getting shut out by the Falcons and getting run and passed over by the Falcons. They knew that desultory loss ripped away their control of the NFC East, meaning they needed help to capture the division once again.