New York Giants running back David Wilson fumbled twice on Sunday Night Football. Tom Coughlin, his coach, looked apoplectic on the sidelines. Better yet, make that Alpo-plectic, given where Wilson now finds himself.
He's in the doghouse.
That familiar American idiom for being in a state of extreme disfavor - out in the yard, alone, waiting to come in from the cold - needs no further explanation. We've all been there.
The difference is that when you're in your spouse's or boss's doghouses, few others know your transgression. When you're in an NFL doghouse - for this game, 13 million TV households on NBC - your bumbling, fumbling missteps are there for all to see, and dissect, in slow-motion replay.
"It's no fun. I know. It's happened to me," CBS analyst Boomer Esiason, who had a 14-year career as an NFL quarterback, told USA TODAY Sports. "It's uncomfortable, really uncomfortable. ... Everyone knows about it, not just your own fan base, but everyone in America knows it. Your high school coach knows it. Your first girlfriend knows it. All your friends in college know it."
For Wilson, the good news is that the history of his own franchise shows it's possible to go from doghouse to penthouse. Consider Ottis Anderson, who fumbled 53 times in eight seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. Then, after a trade to New York in 1986, he fumbled three times in seven seasons - and got the fairytale ending as MVP of Super Bowl XXV, when the Giants beat the Buffalo Bills, 20-19.
"When Ottis came in, I said, 'Look, if you fumble and you don't block the blitz, you're not going to play here,' " says ex-Giants coach Bill Parcells, for whom Coughlin served as wide receivers coach.
Fumbles are not the only way to the doghouse. Missed blocks or missed curfews will get you there, too. And it's never just one mistake. Everybody makes them. But making the same ones over and over will get you there every time.
And the surest way out, if you get the chance, is play your way out.
"It's not a good feeling, obviously, but something that you can fix," Minnesota Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson says. "Things are going to happen sometimes out there on the field. That's how it works. But just keep plugging away and hopefully you make some good plays and get that bad taste out of your mouth."
Coughlin's continued unhappiness over Wilson's bobbles was evident Wednesday as he answered repeated questions from New York reporters. "Quite frankly, there's nowhere else to go with this," Coughlin said. "I don't know what else to say to you. I realize it's a major issue for everybody."
Coughlin made it an issue when he benched Wilson last Sunday and declined to say on Wednesday if he'll put him back in the starting lineup this Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
"We'll see," Coughlin said. "As I've said many times, we need him. He's necessary. He's going to have to overcome this issue. He's a marked man."
And by that Coughlin means that other defenses will target Wilson as fumble-prone, even as he's trying desperately to avoid continued residence in the coach's doghouse.
Here is what Parcells used to tell backs who fumbled their way into his: "This is a declarative statement: 'If you keep fumbling the ball, you're not going to play.' It's as simple as that."
Parcells says he believes Coughlin can coax a turnaround from Wilson, the Giants' top draft pick in 2012, but it's never a sure thing.
"One of the things I found out about coaching," Parcells says, "is just because you know what the problem is, that doesn't mean you can solve it."
How, short of benching, do you know you're in the doghouse?
"You get 'The Look,' " Ravens defensive end Cody Larsen says. "Or you get a play run over and over in the meeting room."
Or, says Ravens offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, "You get limited reps in practice. When they let you out the doghouse, that's how you know it's over."
How long that takes depends on the coach, and the circumstances. "You never know," Ravens guard Marshal Yanda says. "It's one day at a time."
When Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson caught a TD pass in New England on New Year's Day in 2012, he lifted up his jersey to show "Happy New Year" scrawled on his undershirt, drawing a penalty for excessive celebration. Then-Bills coach Chan Gailey benched Johnson, who had done something similar in Cincinnati the season before.
"The coach told me to remember that there are things that I can control," Johnson says.
The hard part, he says, "It's like you let the team down. The thing that gets you beyond it is when your brothers tell you, 'Everything's cool.' Or the coaches tell you, 'We're still riding with you.' "
His family supported him, too, Johnson says. "That's what keeps me calm," he says. "I'm still mad about it. But the guys didn't make me an outcast."
Ravens tight end Billy Bajema says teammates almost always do their best to boost a player who has been banished to the backyard.
"We say things like, 'Keep your head up,' " Bajema says. "Or, 'When you get your opportunity, you'll get past this.' You always want to be supportive because sooner or later we all know what it's like."
Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen says finding ways to fix errors is the way out.
"Everybody's not perfect in this league," he says. "When you're in the doghouse that means you keep on doing the same mistake over and over again. If you just go out there and fix mistakes the (first) time that they tell you to, then you're accountable."
Esiason recalls getting benched in Arizona late in his career and regaining his job when quarterback Kent Graham got hurt.
"It's just a matter of getting angry," Esiason says, "and making the most of every opportunity you have."
A teaching tool
Bill Cowher remembers the time Willie Parker fumbled twice in a span of three carries during a 2005 loss to Cincinnati. Cowher used the doghouse as his teaching tool. He benched Parker in that game. And then he had the young back carry a football around the Pittsburgh Steelers' training complex, not so much as a sort of scarlet letter, but as a way to get Parker comfortable with a secure grip.
"He'd be in a meeting and walk out of the meeting and we'd have a ball there and we'd hand it to him and he might carry it around for an hour and then he'd give it back," Cowher says.
"And Willie took it upon himself to walk around the building holding onto the ball. That's a little bit of an extreme. ... You'd hand it to him and you wanted to see that three-point hold, you wanted to see the crux of that ball in that arm. And just walking by, guys would just try and punch it out."
The question for coaches is how quickly to forgive.
"That's part of it," Cowher says. "It's about holding people accountable and with that comes a little pushing and prodding - and a lot of patting them on the back."
The doghouse beckons not just for things fans can plainly see, such as dropped passes or shanked punts, but for the sort of sins visible only on game tapes.
"Sometimes you have to bench a player because he's not playing well enough," Cowher says. "It's nothing more than it's not good enough. I benched (cornerback) Ike Taylor a number of times, because I wanted to get him playing better, that you can't have lapses, you can't freelance. It's about, 'You have to stay accountable for 60 minutes.' "
But doghouse by benching only works, Cowher says, "if you have a backup to make sure that player can be more accountable. But sometimes you don't have that luxury.''
That could be the case with Coughlin. He doesn't have much choice behind Wilson, though the team did sign free agent and former Giants great Brandon Jacobs, 31, on Tuesday.
Coughlin had calmed down by the time he talked to Denver reporters by conference call. They asked about Wilson's doghouse status, too.
"We have to get that fixed and get it fixed fast," Coughlin said. "He knows he's a marked man, and he's going to have to prove that under duress."
For his part, Wilson told reporters that Coughlin advised him at practice how to hang on to the ball.
"Yeah, not just to me, though, the whole team, because next time it could be somebody else," Wilson said. "So he wants to fix it with the whole team. The whole practice he was screaming, 'High and tight.' "
Contributing: Jarrett Bell, Lindsay Jones and Tom Pelissero
Erik Brady and Jim Corbett, USA TODAY Sports