Eight weeks ago, the Giants lost 37-34 in Dallas to fall to 0-5. Looked very much like a lost season, even in the wasteland that was the NFC East. But that’s not how the head coach, Joe Judge, saw it. In his post-game press conference, he said with no resignation: “All that really matters, to be honest with you, is the progress that we’re making right now. 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.”
The next day, he was similarly even, businesslike and not seeming concerned about 0-5. “I’m not a rainbows-and-sunshine type of guy,” Judge said. “I’m also not a browbeat-you-and-rub-your-nose in it guy, either. It’s, ‘This is what it is. Understand what we’re doing good that we can build on.” But this, from Oct. 12, is the most important thing Judge said, and really what his team has heard since he got hired last winter: “You hear a lot about that expression, ‘Learn to win.’ To me, you can make a lot about the 60th minute of the game, when really it starts in the first 59 minutes of the game. You learn to win by doing your assignment on a consistent basis.”
And really, the process is what Judge learned in his years coaching under Nick Saban at Alabama and Bill Belichick in New England. No one wants to hear endlessly about the process because it’s boring and it doesn’t come with magic, quick results. It’s like what Drew Brees once told me when I asked him about his advice to young quarterbacks. He thought for a minutes, then answered earnestly in a way the best coaches would truly appreciate. What Brees said: “So much of our league is about results, right? We’re in a results-driven business. But truly, it is about the process. If you focus on the process, the result will take care of itself. Develop your process. Focus on that process. Too many times, we get frustrated because the result didn’t match up with the process. But if you just focus on the process, eventually you get to the point where good process will consistently equal good result.”
That’s what we’re seeing with the Giants now. Since that 0-5 start, the Giants are 5-2, with the two losses agonizing ones traced to turnovers. In those seven games, in the midst of one of the biggest offensivee seasons in NFL history, New York is giving up 18.9 points per game, led by defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. On Sunday, against 11-point-favorite Seattle, the Giants defensed Russell Wilson into one of the most frustrating days of his nine-year career. He had no peace all day, hounded by a Giants front seven with overlooked and doubted vets (Leonard Williams, Jabaal Sheard) and rookies (seventh-round rookie linebackers Carter Coughlin and Tae Crowder). Interesting, really, that public enemy number one for Giants’ fans, GM Dave Gettleman, has worked well with Judge and gotten him the caliber of player Judge wants. You could criticize Gettleman’s previous Giants’ player acquisition, and certainly picking Barkley second overall, but being critical this year is disingenuous. Gettleman’s drafts, particularly on defense, have been very good.
On Sunday, the oft-magical Wilson wasn’t much of a factor, and his favorite receiver, DK Metcalf, wasn’t either. On play after play, when Wilson pirouetted left, a linebacker was there. Williams, in particular, wouldn’t let Wilson have enough time to find Metcalf or Tyler Lockett with the kind of zinged passes that had taken Seattle to an 8-3 record.
“Creating that spiderweb around Russell Wilson,” Leonard Williams said from Seattle post-game, “was huge. Just not letting him out of the pocket, not letting him run around freely, doing whatever he wants. Get some hits on him. Make him uncomfortable. Don’t let him scramble too much. Obviously, he’s a good player. But that’s where that grit and togetherness and being locked in comes in handy.
“I think a lot of it has to do with scheme obviously. I think Pat Graham is a great coordinator. But I think majority of it has to do with I think how much people are just bought in on this team. The overall team energy of how we come to work every day, how we come to practice, how we take losses and how we take wins is like we don’t listen to any outside noise. We come to work. We’re not reading any pats on the back out there. We’re not reading any doubters out there. We know who we have in the building and we come to work every day and I think just over time, it just creates such a good culture of hard work and just grit.”
Two things about Judge:
• He believes in regular sleep. Most NFL teams, on West-to-East or East-to-West trips, get out of town as fast as they can and get home often times at odd hours. Had the Giants left Seattle on Sunday night, they’d have gotten in their New Jersey beds by maybe 4:30 a.m. ET after the flight home. The Giants stayed in Seattle overnight Sunday. They would have a normal night’s sleep Sunday, then wake up and probably do a short team meeting, virtually, at their hotel. They’d fly home, and players would be back home by about 7:30 p.m. ET. Then the off day Tuesday, and another normal sleep night, then back at work Wednesday preparing for the next game. Instead of two iffy nights of sleep and then a recovery one Tuesday night, the Giants, theoretically, wouldn’t have a bad night of sleep leading into the next game week.
• He believes in listening to his players. Most NFL teams have turned to virtual team and position meetings through the week, a nod to doing everything possible to limit the internal spread of the coronavirus. Judge did it both ways—virtual meetings for the most part, and then in-person meetings two days a week. The Giants converted half of their cavernous field house in East Rutherford, N.J., into a huge meeting room for the in-person meetings. Recently, he asked his captains what they thought. You might have expected them to say, Let us keep meeting virtually from our homes. But they said they wanted the in-person meetings twice a week. So that’s how the Giants do business each Wednesday and Friday, masked and spread apart in the huge fieldhouse.
“When we first got Judge, honestly, we realized how hard he was on us,” said Williams. “And then some guys were like ‘Ugh, this is so hard.’ But then we realized how much he cares about winning and he cares about us being successful. He just does such a good job of getting guys to buy in. It’s hard to be a leader and get that many people bought in, in a short amount of time as well. And I think he did a great job of doing that even when we were losing and could’ve fallen apart.”
The new-look Giants have a tough fourth quarter of the season—Arizona, Cleveland, at Baltimore, Dallas—but the defense will keep them in every game. Amazing, really, that New York has two more wins than both Philadelphia and Dallas entering the last four weeks. In the NFL, nothing is forever. Even bad Giants football.