The Giants players seem to genuinely like Joe Judge, and his bosses are pleased with him, too. But 0-5 is 0-5, even for a rookie head coach still in his honeymoon period.
So yes, Judge really needed this win.
Not because his job was in any kind of jeopardy, or because he was in any danger oflosing his team. But he needed it quite simply because he needed to give everyone a reason to believe. He has no track record of success, no proof for his players that his coaching methods work.
Now, after the Giants outlasted Washington 20-19 on Sunday, he finally does.
“We’ve been working hard,” said Giants defensive lineman Leonard Williams. “We obviously got to see some of the fruits of our labor.”
“We’ve battled these first five weeks and haven’t gotten the results,” quarterback Daniel Jones added. “It’s an extremely rewarding feeling today to get that result.”
Forget for a second how it happened, or the fact that it just barely happened. Instead, consider the locker room scene that Giants players described. They spoke of a shower of water being thrown around the room, and the traditional Gatorade bath for a coach getting his first career win. And not surprisingly, Jones presented Judge with the game ball.
They were happy for the first time this season. They were encouraged to not be 0-for anymore. And all of them who spoke said a variation of the phrase that Judge no doubt instilled in them: That their hard work had finally paid off.
And that matters, not because it salvages this season or signals the Giants are ready to go on some kind of run. It matters because of what the alternative could have looked like if this 0-for went on much longer. This is a young team, hungry for success, playing for an organization that is dying for something to believe in. They’re ready to follow Judge wherever he may lead.
But faith has its limits. And at some point everyone would’ve had understandable doubts in a rookie head coach if the win column remained empty. Judge’s players are fighting hard, but would they have been fighting as hard at 0-8? Would they still believe they were headed in the right direction at 0-10 or worse?
It’s doubtful. And look, it still might get to that point if this one win doesn’t turn into a few more. But at least now Judge can look in his players eyes and say, “I told you so.” It’s easier to pitch to them that their efforts will pay dividends after they actually do.
“I’m proud of the guys for getting the win today and that their work was rewarded,” Judge said. “The locker room obviously had a lot of energy afterwards. There’s been a lot of pressure that they put on themselves and we put on them. I’m happy the players were able to enjoy it today.”
Don’t worry: Judge understands the circumstances. He knows this win was a gift. When “Riverboat Ron” decided to go for two after a touchdown with 36 seconds left and Washington trailing by one, he was handing the Giants an undeserved shot at victory. Because let’s face it: If his team kicks the extra point and goes to overtime, there was little chance the Giants were going to win.
Yes, they played a good defensive game, but that final drive showed the tired defense was on its heels. And the Giants’ offense continues to be absolutely abysmal. They had just 240 total yards in the game -- 49 of which came on one run by their quarterback. Jones was an awful 12 of 19 for 112 yards against a completely middle-of-the-pack defensive team.
Because of that, they would’ve been beaten down even further if they lost, teetering on the edge of a football depression. They’d be wondering where their next win would come from -- if it would come at all. Instead, they get a boost of confidence, a little momentum and some hope. And don’t underestimate the power of any of that.
Now it’s on Judge to use it, to keep his team working hard, and maybe even steal another win on Thursday night against the very beatable Philadelphia Eagles. It’s a chance to take another small step in this march towards progress -- no matter how painfully slow it has been.
“The one thing I’ll say about our players in that regard is they haven’t blinked,” Judge said. “They’ve done a tremendous job. They don’t blink. They stay focused on the next opponent. They work tirelessly. The appreciation we have for our players, it’s tough to put into words.”
That’s OK, because word don’t matter. Wins do. They make everything seem a little better, no matter how they come. They turn people into believers, even if it’s only temporary.
That’s the real gift of this victory. Judge had asked his players to have faith in him. Now that it’s been justified, maybe they’ll believe a little more.