Through it all, through the agony of defeat after defeat, the bond between this rookie head coach and this team that kept getting knocked down has proven to be unbreakable.
Joe Judge loves coaching these players, as imperfect as too many of them are, loves the first team he gets to call his own and mold in his own image, and these players never stopped fighting for him. They appreciate that he coaches them hard, with a relentless attention to detail, and he appreciates that they play hard, one play at a time, for 60 minutes.
And so Joe Judge deserved his first win as head coach of the 1-5 New York Giants, and his players deserved to win their first game, and no one cared that it was as ugly as it was, no one cared that it came against a weakling like the Washington Football Team, no one cared that Riverboat Ron Rivera gifted them this precious 20-19 triumph thanks to a failed two-point conversion attempt with 36 seconds left.
And so after he was giving and getting hugs and pats on the back on the sideline after Logan Ryan smothered the onside kick and Daniel Jones was done kneeling, Judge was treated to a jubilant locker-room drenching and was handed the game ball by Jones.
“I gave him the game ball, but he was quickly dumped with Gatorade,” said Jones (12 of 19, 112 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). “A lot of people played a part in that [chuckle] celebration, it was good, it was a fun moment there after the game.”
Barely surviving a backup quarterback such as Kyle Allen at home hardly compares to winning three Super Bowls under Bill Belichick, but it was sweet nevertheless for Judge if for no other reason than to see the frowns turned upside down on the faces of his players. Because this is the essence of what a coach lives for.
“The emotion on the sideline was just joy for the players,” Judge said. “To see them smile and to see them rewarded for their hard work, that’s really what you play for. You really want to teach someone and when you see somebody carry out what you teach ’em and have success with it, that’s really the reward in our profession.”
When he retreated to the locker room, there were texts on his phone that left him thinking about his late father, who was his role model and idol.
“I try not to make things internal,” Judge said. “When the players lose, I feel bad for the players. When they win, I’m happy for the players. When something goes wrong, our reaction is, ‘What did I screw up, what could I have done better to help out this guy in a position to have success?’ I’ll kinda sit back some day far in the future and think about internal things. I don’t think it’s any close to time right now for that. It was one game, and we got another one coming up shortly.”
His Giants recognize that Judge burns to see improvement from them with each passing day. They have learned that he treasures loyalty, that he will have their backs if they have his. He is a straight shooter, and the rules are the same for everyone, because if you are the fourth pick of the 2020 NFL Draft and you do something that interferes with winning, you will be benched for the first quarter. But Andrew Thomas will appreciate that Judge would not embarrass him publicly.
“Andrew violated team policy,” Judge said. “There was nothing disobedient, disrespectful or malicious in what he did, but he made a mistake, and there’s consequences for mistakes.”
Thomas revealed that he was late for a Saturday night meeting.
“Coach Judge always talks about actions have consequences, and I take responsibility for my actions and the consequences. It won’t happen again,” Thomas said in a statement.
It was rookie Tae Crowder who scooped and scored the 43-yard TD thanks to a Kyler Fackrell sack that gave the Giants a 20-13 lead and took Jones off the hook for his third red-zone interception of the season. The 255th and last pick of the 2020 NFL Draft — Mr. Irrelevant — helping make the latest faux pass from the sixth-overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft relatively irrelevant.
“I wish Tae would have bent his knees a little better and taken it cleaner off, but I’m glad the second time through he got it and finished on out,” Judge said. “Just gotta make sure we don’t kick that thing initially and give them an opportunity to get on that ball.”
Jones had thrown a picture-perfect 23-yard TD pass to Darius Slayton, had rumbled 49 yards around the left side on his way to a team-high 74 rushing yards, but he could easily have been the goat. If you are going to try to throw the ball away, you better make sure you have enough oomph on it to throw it away. Never mind that Kendall Fuller’s interception in the back of the end zone should have been overturned. Never mind that you were under heavy pressure. A 13-10 lead became 13-13.
“I gotta make that decision sooner and get the ball out. … Can’t afford to make those mistakes,” Jones said.
It was Dexter Lawrence in Allen’s face that forced the final incompletion and foiled Riverboat Ron’s gamble. “That’s actually a call [defensive coordinator] Pat [Graham] put in this week,” Judge said.
Judge had been too conservative early in the third quarter, punting fourth-and-2 at the WFT 38. His decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal at the 2 in the first half turned out to be the correct one.
He knows he doesn’t have a good team yet. He has a tough team, physically and mentally. He has a resilient team. He has a together team.
“They haven’t blinked,” Judge said. “You understand when it’s tough, when they’re going through a streak where there’s a lot of noise on the outside that we ask them to stay focused on what’s ahead of ’em. We know they’re hearing from all directions. But they come to work, they don’t complain, they do whatever we ask ’em to. We got a good group of guys, they’re tough, they’re fun to coach, I’m happy they had success today.”
The Eagles are next on Thursday night. Judge had one last message in the locker room: “Hey, it’s Wednesday night guys. Philly Week, it’s Wednesday night right now.”
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