Joe Judge steers clear of many things in his first season as a head coach.
He does not criticize his players for public consumption. After games, he does not address this play or that play, this call or that call. Another fumble by Daniel Jones? Judge says “my eyes are not always directly on Daniel the entire time.” A missed tackle by a defensive player? A dropped pass or missed cut? Judge defers, saying he will reserve judgment until after he reviews the film.
A day later, Judge almost always defers again, saying he is moving on from that game, looking ahead to preparation for the next one. He falls back on generalities, such as the need for the collective to do better, play better, to avoid mistakes and cash in on opportunities.
Judge is not getting paid to entertain at these post-game sessions, which can take on the feel of inquisition when things are going badly. If you have not noticed, things are going badly, again, for the Giants, but the impersonality of Zoom interviews sanitizes everything, good and bad, and with the Giants it is pretty much all bad.
Out of one of these remote interrogations, Judge in Arlington, Texas after his team was beaten at the buzzer, losing 37-34 to the Cowboys, said something quite astonishing. Has Judge seen progress, he was asked, and if so, does that matter much, or at all, considering the Giants are 0-5?
“Well, that’s all that really matters, to be honest with you, the progress that we’re making right now,” Judge said. “The record will come in time. Obviously, we’re not happy about losses, that’s not what we do here, but I’ve seen a lot of progress on all fronts and all units. We have to keep making consistent progress to keep being a better team as the year goes.”
Just because Judge inherited a mess does not mean there is some different scale for the 2020 Giants. We get what he is saying here, that in the absence of winning, gleaning whatever positives out of each game – each loss – is vital to the eventual rebuilding of the entire program. Nothing is ever a total loss even though everything is an actual loss.
The expectations outside the building were that the Giants were a three-to-six win team. The very high end was 7-9 and the low end was well, really low. Getting to three will be difficult and getting to six darn-near impossible. Does this even matter? Judge kinda, sorta said no. As long as there are tangible steps forward this is somehow acceptable? As long as when the Giants end their season Jan. 3 in a rematch with the Cowboys a case can be made this team finished better than it started?
That does not really cut it. Not when the zero remains at the start of Judge’s record. Until the Giants win a game they haven’t won a game and that is unacceptable. Are they in any way, shape or form more talented than the Bears, Rams or Cowboys? Not a chance. Jones had the ball late in all three of those games with a chance to pull even or win. He did not. The Giants did not. Until any of the new hires in this organization show they can work the week and then win on the weekend there is no compelling reason to think they can. Because they haven’t.
Is this tossing Judge aside? Of course not. He has a five-year contract and is not going anywhere. The changes will be upstairs and he will get to continue, as he should.
There are three first-time NFL head coaches operating teams this season. Judge is winless. Matt Rhule is 3-2 with the Panthers. Kevin Stefanski is 4-1 with the Browns. The three situations are all different. The Browns have talent that needed to be tamed and harnessed. The Panthers lost Christian McCaffrey – much like the Giants lost Saquon Barkley – but their roster is stronger than what the Giants trot out onto the field.
That the Giants are 12-41 since the start of the 2017 season is not on Judge. He is 0-5 and cannot be blamed for the sins of others. Pat Shurmur could not get out from under the weight of the losing that took place before him, feeling unfairly burdened. Judge’s eyes so far are looking ahead, not behind, and that serves him well.
The fan base wants to embrace Judge and the losing triggers a social distancing that has nothing to do with this miserable pandemic. What makes Judge different and why should the loyalists believe in him? Those who love the Giants adore beating the Cowboys. Judge came close, but what good is that?
More that came out of what for the Giants was their most agonizing loss of the season
Jabrill Peppers played 23 of the 66 defensive snaps, as the Giants smartly limited his action coming off a sprained ankle. He is needed on the field as much as possible.
That two-point conversion pass to rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas? He became the first player in NFL history whose listed position is offensive line to score on a two-point conversion, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Is there any doubt Daniel Jones locks in on receivers too often? The one he locks in on most of all is Darius Slayton, his 2019 draft classmate, and that is a good thing. Slayton (eight catches for 129 yards) was exceptional against the Cowboys. He already has four 100-yard receiving games in his career. He should have had a 31-yard touchdown catch – it was called by back by an offensive pass interference penalty on Damion Ratley.
Evan Engram became the first Giants tight end to score a rushing touchdown in more than 24 years, when Aaron Pierce did it against the Vikings Sept. 29, 1996. Engram should have had a touchdown reception on a fake punt but it was called back by a penalty. Other than that, not so much for Engram. He was targeted only two times and caught one pass for 16 yards. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is trying creative ways to get the ball in Engram’s hands. Could it be he is simply not a good route-runner, and as a result does not have the feel or the instincts to get open?
The best free-agent signing of the year for the Giants is Graham Gano. The last Giants kicker with two field goals of 50 yards or longer in a game was Raul Allegre in 1987. Gano booted three of them against the Cowboys, from 51, 54 and 55 yards and none of them were ever in doubt. What a leg.