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The Giants are getting worse by the day, disintegrating right before everyone’s eyes. They don’t look like an NFL team anymore. They’re non-competitive. It hurts to watch.
So in the aftermath of the latest, and maybe the worst of their disasters, Joe Judge was asked why anyone should have any faith that he can turn this thing around?
And for the next 11 minutes and six seconds he rambled on with an answer that used up 2,694 words.
And none of it -- not a single word of it -- was good enough.
What it sounded like was a plea not to believe what you see, even though what everyone sees is hideous. The Giants had just lost, 29-3, to a bad Chicago Bears team to drop to 4-12 on the season. They’ve been outscored 141-49 during their five-game losing streak. They had 151 yards of offense, including minus-10 passing. They have under 100 passing yards in the past two games combined.
Yes, they’ve had a lot of injuries, but this is more than that. This is bad personnel combined with a coaching staff that can’t figure out what to do with it. It is a total mess of an operation.
But what Judge wanted everyone to know is that, behind the scenes, things are going really well.
“When we look overall at what we’re doing, there’s a number of things going in the right direction,” Judge said. “We know there are foundational things, things you have to put in place for a team to have success on and off the field.”
What he’s talking about, he said, is how his players “bust their butt” in practice, how they are “committed to doing extras in position drills, extras individually to get their body right.” He said “they practice with good energy, good enthusiasm.”
And those things are not nothing. Building a culture is important, especially since the Giants haven’t had a good one since Tom Coughlin was ushered out of town. Judge, by all accounts -- especially his own -- has fixed a lot of the organization’s issues. The players are fighting hard. They’re building good chemistry. They’re doing things the right way now.
But they’re still 4-12.
And that’s not just important -- it’s kind of the whole point. You don’t get gold stars (or gold jackets) for practicing the right way and fostering a positive atmosphere when your two-year record is 10-22. No one cares that the team is bonding and showing character when they have to pay to see a product that stinks. It’s the worst team the Giants have put on the field since the 1970s.
So they’re practicing hard? Yipee. Good for them.
“There’s a lot of teams right now that are out of playoff contention, OK?” Judge continued. “Whether it’s golf clubs in the locker room or people planning vacations … there’s a lot of finger pointing and blaming and shouting. You know what we don’t have in our building? Any of that.
“This ain’t a team that’s having fistfights on the sidelines. This ain’t some clown show organization or something else. The toughest thing to change in the team is the way people think. You understand that? That’s the toughest thing. You’ve got to change how they f---ing -- pardon my language -- believe in what you’re doing. And then you’ve got to trust the process.
“And that’s a lot easier said than done.”
Judge may be right about all of that. And it seems especially important since Judge said that when he first met his players after taking the Giants’ job before last season, some told him, “Joe, it’s not a team. They don’t play hard. We’re out of the playoffs, everybody quit, everybody tapped out.” That’s alarming (and a horrifying indictment of his predecessor, Pat Shurmur). It also speaks to how tough Judge’s job was.
But NFL coaches don’t get forever to build a culture and a program. This isn’t high school. He’s coaching professionals. You either do it, or you don’t.
And a year ago, it looked like Judge was doing it. He was dealt a terrible hand at the start of his NFL head coaching career when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out his first offseason program and all his preseason games. He went into his rookie year cold, and started 0-5 and 1-7. But it really looked like he was onto something when his scrappy team hung on in the awful NFC East race by winning five of their final eight games.
So what happened to everything he built? Did the culture and the practice habits just not take? Since when does a coach get to do it over and over again until he gets it right?
But Judge wants everyone to have faith that better days are coming, that once the foundation is built -- however long that takes -- the wins will follow. It’s just hard to believe it because they’ve reached such embarrassing levels. And honestly, it’s hard to tell if Judge is trying to convince the fans, his bosses, his players, or maybe even himself.
The only thing that’s crystal clear -- even to him -- is that those wins better follow soon.
“You think I sit back and I say what we’re doing is good enough?” Judge said. “No, it’s not. But I know this: I know the first time I talked to you guys in front of a microphone, what the hell did I talk about? Foundation, right? Building from the ground up. Building the right thing.”
Yes, he did. And he says he is, even if nobody outside sees it. Still, he won’t get any applause for that at the Meadowlands next Sunday. He’ll face a small and angry crowd at that meaningless season finale. “If we don’t play well,” Judge said, as if he knew what would be coming, “every fan has a right to boo my ass out of the stadium.”
And they will.
Because words don’t matter to paying customers who have watched this franchise flounder through five straight seasons of double-digit losses and seen them turn into an unfunny joke. Practice habits aren’t significant to fans when their team has become, almost inarguably, the worst in the league.
So when Judge says he’s got players who are going to be free agents “who are in my office every day begging to come back,” or former players from last year’s team “that still call me twice a week talking about how much they wish they were still here,” does that matter to anyone? And when he says, “I know we’re a whole lot closer to where we’re going than further away. I can tell you that right now,” why would anyone believe it?
Bill Parcells used to say, “You are what your record says you are.” That’s the real point -- and it takes a lot less time to say it. If you need something even shorter, “Just win, baby” works, too.