EAST RUTHERFORD - Tom Coughlin and the New York Giants are in uncharted territory in his 10th season as their coach.
The Giants (0-3) are off to their worst start since 1996. Concern is escalating after a 38-0 loss to the unremarkable Carolina Panthers on Sunday, the worst loss since Coughlin took over a team in disarray in 2004.
Not only did the Giants get thrashed, they showed little fight and passion in a game they had termed a must win earlier in the week, forcing Coughlin to challenge their pride Monday.
"Our pride should be challenged after a game like that," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "You go out there and you just don't lose, you get it handed to you. There was not much response from us at all out there. He should be challenging our pride. That's something we are, and I have been checking myself since the game yesterday, trying to look at everything I can do better and improve upon. That's where it has to start."
The Giants' performance was one of the low points in Coughlin's tenure. It might have been rock bottom for a team that had hopes of playing in a Super Bowl in its backyard in February. That now seems like wishful thinking.
The offense gained 150 yards and a banged-up line allowed Eli Manning to be sacked seven times. The defense appeared to quit in the second half. The team's total points allowed soared to 115, the worst in the league.
The task won't be any easier this weekend when the Giants travel to play Andy Reid's Chiefs (3-0) in Kansas City.
"Like I said, it's one of the toughest things about being 0-3," linebacker Spencer Paysinger said. "Everybody's going to come after you. Everybody's going to look at you and say that this team is an easy win, they haven't been playing in sync, we can get after their offense, we can frustrate their defense, we can convert whatever we want whenever we want. No team is going to be light on us and we can't be light on ourselves. If we're light on ourselves, we're doing our city and our fans an injustice."
Coughlin, who will be attending his brother's funeral in Waterloo, N.Y., today, isn't giving up. His approach is "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead."
"Each year is a new year. Each situation is a totally different situation. We're scratching and biting to try to find answers as well," he said.
The Giants have issues heading into the week.
Coughlin disclosed that center David Baas (sprained knee) and guard Chris Snee (offseason hip surgery) are having health issues. He would not elaborate or say whether changes were planned on a line that is a major part of an offense that ranks last in rushing.
"We have to play better," said Manning, the only star player to talk to the media Monday. "We have to have greater energy, greater enthusiasm, play better, better technique, decision making. There are some plays out there that we left on the field, and sometimes we just got flat-out beat. It's not a big surprise what we have to do to fix it. We just have to go out there and play better football."
After the game, Coughlin told the players to stick together. Not everyone did. Receiver Hakeem Nicks complained about not being able to throw the ball to himself.
Coughlin said Nicks' comments weren't "a smart thing to say" and he planned to talk to him. Manning said the throws just weren't there.
Jenkins said the Giants can't start criticizing each other.
"Once you get to pointing the finger, you get that cancer in the locker room like that, it can fall apart easy," he said. "You can't do that. This is a team game. We come into every week, every game, as a team, we leave every game as a team. We win or lose as a team together."
Since 1978, only five of 161 teams that started 0-3 have made the playoffs, the last being Buffalo in 1998. Based on that, the likelihood is the Giants will miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
"This is gut check time,' safety Ryan Mundy said. "You've got to fight back. Period."
If the Giants don't make it, expect changes, especially because general manager Jerry Reese said before the season that winning the Super Bowl every couple of years (after the 2007 and 2011 seasons) and missing the playoffs in the other years isn't good enough.