With a quarter of the season over, it's time to acknowledge that New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin is no fool after all.
Coughlin was called everything from irrational, to stubborn, to the village idiot when the Giants lost their first game by two touchdowns and he was fining players, including team leader and Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan, for showing up late to meetings (even though, technically, they were on time).
Now all Coughlin has done is produce three straight wins, keeping the Giants on the heels of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. And, fittingly in a place like New York, he is doing it his way.
Inflexibility and discipline reign during the practice week for a Coughlin-coached team, with the latter attribute a staple on game day as well. The Giants have turned the ball over three times and forced 13 turnovers, the best differential in the NFL.
Moreover, quarterback Kurt Warner, who was benched during a disastrous first game when the Giants looked like a mess in Philadelphia, is slowly beginning to resemble the former two-time league Most Valuable Player.
Leading a system that demands smart decisions over big plays, Warner has re-invented himself as an efficient yet unspectacular quarterback. He has just two touchdown passes, but has been intercepted only once and is completing 67.5 percent of his throws.
As is the case with Coughlin's teams, an effective running game is a must. Tiki Barber leads the NFC with 455 rushing yards, and the Giants are seventh overall in total offense. But the real surprise from Barber is that he has not fumbled in his 73 carries this season, a minor miracle considering Barber had fumbled 35 times over the previous four seasons, an NFL high.
Coughlin forced Barber to carry a football across his chest during training camp, an exercise usually reserved for college and high school. Yet it seems to have worked.
Barber and Warner credit the extraordinary attention to detail Coughlin forces upon the players during practices as the reason why so few mistakes are made during games.
"It does nothing but give credibility to the way we've done things," Warner said.
A couple of weeks ago, it looked like the Giants were headed for a mutiny. But a win today against the Dallas Cowboys would set them up nicely for a four-game stretch that includes Detroit, Chicago and Arizona after the bye.
What about all those ridiculous rules that punished players for showing up on time for meetings, not five minutes early like Coughlin requests? That type of strictness is a lot easier to take when a team is winning.
The seven to 10 players who reportedly complained to the NFL Players Association that Coughlin was working them too hard earlier this year are quiet now.
"It paid dividends," Warner said. "That's what you want."
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Mularkey hasn't made his point to Bills yet
Buffalo Bills coach Mike Mularkey has the reputation as an offensive whiz, but so far, that's been nothing but malarkey. The Bills are 30th in the league in offense, exactly where they finished last season.
All the talk heading into the season centered around tailback, where first-round pick Willis McGahee politicked for playing time ahead of Travis Henry. Neither has done much. McGahee has just 11 carries all season, while Henry is gaining 3.5 yards a carry, the lowest average among the top 14 rushers in the AFC.
The passing game has not been much better. Drew Bledsoe has three touchdown passes for the year.
What gives? Mistakes in the red zone, according to Mularkey. Of course, it doesn't help that Bledsoe no longer has J.P. Losman pushing him for playing time. Losman is out for the first half of the season with a broken leg.
Soon, Buffalo's defense may have trouble keeping the team afloat. The Bills lost cornerback Troy Vincent for at least two weeks with a knee injury.
Houston Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson is doing everything in his power to succeed the Ravens' Terrell Suggs as the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Robinson, the draft's 10th overall selection (the same place Suggs was picked a year earlier), is keeping a journal, writing down "the good and the bad" from every game and will use it throughout the season as a reference guide.
Here's something that's good: Robinson had two interceptions last week against the Oakland Raiders.
Hold off a minute before declaring that Arizona Cardinals running back Emmitt Smith has found the Fountain of Youth.
Yes, Smith has rushed for 290 yards in four games, his best start since 1999, when he had 409. But three of those games came against the St. Louis Rams (28th against the run), New England Patriots (22nd) and New Orleans Saints (31st).
The Atlanta Falcons, second in run defense, held Smith to 45 yards on 18 carries.