Joe Judge’s culture of togetherness is saving Giants

First-place teams come in all shapes and sizes.

The Giants won ugly against the Bengals on Sunday, and call them Shrek if you like.

They lost Daniel Jones to a hamstring injury in the third quarter, and special teams was a disaster, and The Fighting Joe Judges, 19-17 winners, do not have to apologize for a three-game winning streak or not having beaten a team with a winning record or for being in first place in the NFC Least.

Winning Ugly has never felt so beautiful.

The danger was always that using his legs could one day be a curse as well as a blessing, and one day arrived for Daniel Jones and the Giants early in the third quarter of a 10-10 game.

One minute, he was galloping for 7 yards, driving the Giants toward the end zone, and the next minute he was on his butt deep in Bengals territory clutching his right leg.

And the next minute, he was sprawled out in the medical tent being examined by the trainers.

He returned limping for the next series.

He lasted two plays before Colt McCoy — a fairer fight now against Brandon Allen, especially with the way Jones had been connecting with Evan Engram — was summoned for his 2020 debut.

Joe Judge needed heroes, and we have learned that he doesn’t care who you are or where you come from as he builds his Together Blue culture.

He found plenty of them.

Everyone has a job to do.

If you get a uniform on game day, just do your job (sound familiar)?

“I love this group of guys, they’re a lot of fun to coach,” Judge said. “They come to work every day, they’re tough physically and mentally, they’re very resilient, and they’ve got the right mindset.”

These 4-7 Giants do not dominate or scare anyone, and that’s never what this season was going to be about.

Joe Judge promised blue-collar Giants who would represent the people of this area and make them proud.

As of this moment, Mission Accomplished, even though you will never get Joe Judge taking any bows for first place right now.

His Giants never stop punching, and when they are knocked down, they get back up. And they get back up angry.

“Call us what you want to call us, we’re a bunch of underdogs, man, a bunch of guys who were written off in our careers,” Logan Ryan said, “and that’s what Joe wants. Joe wants guys with a chip on their shoulder. Joe wants guys who are tough.

“We’re building a culture here where, if you work hard in practice, you work hard day-to-day, you get an opportunity. When you get that opportunity, it’s your job to make the most of it. … I’m proud of this blue-collar chip-on-our shoulder that we have. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

McCoy’s job was not to lose the game, and never mind that he overthrew a wide-open Dion Lewis on what would have been a 21-yard TD and 20-10 lead, he did his job (31 passing yards, 0 turnovers).

He had plenty of company.

“We play together,” Engram said.

There was Wayne Gallman (24-94-1 TD), given up on by the previous coaching staff, in the end zone for the fifth consecutive game, running angry again behind Dave DeGuglielmo’s offensive line.

There was Niko Lalos, activated from the practice squad, an undrafted kid from Dartmouth with a dream, making a diving interception off a Darnay Holmes deflection.

“To be honest with you, we’re not surprised, he was around the ball, we see that every day in practice,” Judge said. “Practice execution becomes game reality.”

There was the indispensable Ryan, signed right before the season, recovering a fumble with 4:12 left as Lalos was grabbing onto Drew Sample’s right hand.

There was Graham Gano, kicking into a net in his hotel room following a bout with COVID-19 that had him with fever and temporarily without a sense of taste, released at the end of July by the Panthers after missing all of 2019 with a leg injury, extending his streak of field goals made from 20 to 24.

“We never flinched,” Engram said.

And finally, after Holmes had been flagged for a suspect pass interference in the end zone on Tee Higgins and the Bengals closed to 19-17, after a Cam Fleming holding penalty forced a three-and-out, was rookie Cam Brown, who plays for friends and loved ones he has lost in his life, making a game-saving tackle at midfield on Alex Erickson.

There was 10-year-journeyman Jabaal Sheard, signed Oct. 20 off the Jaguars practice squad, playing 24 snaps because Kyler Fackrell had been sidelined, strip-sacking Allen, and there was Leonard Williams, discarded by the Jets, recording his sixth sack earlier and recovering the fumble, game over.

First place.

“Listen,” Joe Judge said. “We start looking past what we have to do to get ready, this conversation’s gonna be something of the past.”

You be the Judge: His team sure is listening, and for now, the conversation is something of the present, and how sweet it is.

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