By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — When the Giants searched for a head coach in January of 2020, Joe Judge certainly counted as a surprise hire. Nationally speaking, he was a bit of an unknown. He wasn’t overly experienced, but having worked under both Nick Saban at Alabama and Bill Belichick in New England, Judge was the choice for the Giants.
Now 18 games into the Joe Judge era, it is not looking pretty.
The Giants lost in partly heartbreaking, partly embarrassing fashion on Thursday night, with Dexter Lawrence jumping early on Washington’s game-winning field goal attempt in the final seconds of the game. That kick was no good; the rekick from 5 yards closer was good. Washington won. The Giants lost. Again.
Coming off a 6-10 season a year ago, Judge and the Giants had some optimism that with Saquon Barkley back on the field, and with Daniel Jones potentially making a year-three jump a la Josh Allen, a better season and a return to the playoffs could be in store.
But now, they’re 0-2, and things are getting a bit tense in New York.
Judge was asked about his message to Giants fans after the latest loss, and the coach’s response was … well, it was something. Here it is, in its entirety:
In terms of the fans having a gut punch? Hey look, I love the fans. I appreciate all their support. And the fact that they’re having a gut punch on that, that means that they’re invested with us right there. It means they’re staying with us right there and watching us fight and battle, and following some of those emotional highs and lows of the game. Look, what I can tell the fans is this: you’re going to keep seeing a team that’s going to fight for 60 full minutes. You’re gonna see a team, we’re going to correct those disappointing things you saw on tape tonight. Don’t worry about that as a fan base. OK? That’s my job. I’m gonna get that thing done. Don’t worry about that, OK?
But I appreciate their support. I don’t ask them for any cheers that aren’t earned, I don’t ask them for any pats on the back. We don’t rely on or need that. Look, this is New York. The reality is it’s supposed to be a tough place to play and coach. That’s the nature of what it is. You wanna play somewhere easy? I’m sure there’s plenty of other cities you can go out there where they don’t really care that much about football and their sports teams, where by Tuesday, they’ll forget you even had a game. All right? The reality is, the great thing about playing in our city, is the fact that they ride high and low every week with you. That’s the great thing about our fan base.
So, look, it’s our job to earn their respect. It’s our job to make them cheer. It’s our job to bring them back up off these lows. That’s what we have to work for every week. I appreciate all the support. We had great support today in the stadium. There was a lot of times, I mean, behind our bench at least, you had a significant amount of noise of Giants fans. That’s a great feeling. That’s a great feeling. I talk to our guys all the time about coming on the road, and it’s you vs.the world, and it’s great when you turn around and you actually do hear your fans travel with you.
We have a strong fan base, obviously, it’s a national fan base, because New York’s really America’s city. That’s the reality of what it is.
So in terms of the fans emotionally, look, I’m not sitting here trying to promise you rainbows and butterflies. The reality is we’re going back to work for ya. OK, we’re gonna go back to work and do everything we can to get this thing right, the right way it needs to be, and keep building this thing to be the team that we’re gonna be down the stretch.
When Judge delivered a similar rah-rah speech at his introductory press conference, the collective NFL media gave him a standing ovation for nailing the press conference. Something about blue-collar work made the national media people go gaga.
You’re starting to see why Joe Judge blew the Giants away in his interview. https://t.co/bsvUZRzqm0
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 9, 2020
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 9, 2020
This is new. Joe Judge arrived early for his introductory press conference and shook hands with every reporter here.
— Judy Battista (@judybattista) January 9, 2020
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) January 9, 2020
Definitely one of the key takeaways from Coach Joe Judge press conference. He says this relentlessly in every interview he has given. Let’s see if his words hold weight. #GiantsPride pic.twitter.com/BXwkRB4vir
— TheBlueZone (@TheBlueZonee) January 10, 2020
With some cliched coachspeak, Judge was an instant media darling.
Now with a 6-12 record and an 0-2 start in year two, not so much.
Here’s a sampling of some of the headlines in New York on Friday morning:
Blame Joe Judge for this unthinkable Giants loss — and another lost season
Giants’ mental lapses in Thursday’s loss a bad look for disciplined Joe Judge
What a mess! Giants crumble in 30-29 loss to Washington | Joe Judge, Patrick Graham and many others to blame for the latest disaster
For NJ.com, Zack Rosenblatt wrote: “One week after his gaffe with a challenge flag, Judge is looking like a coach that isn’t ready to rise to the moment. And now the Giants have another 0-2 hole to get out of.”
That challenge flag gaffe was rather remarkable, as Judge threw his challenge flag after Denver scored a touchdown. Scoring plays are reviewed automatically, and throwing a challenge flag on such a play results in a loss of a timeout for the offending party. Judge took responsibility for that mistake, claiming he knew it was a penalty but threw the flag anyway to get the officials’ attention.
That Thursday’s debacle was decided on a special teams penalty was an added issue for Judge, whose primary job prior to taking over in New York was being a special teams coach. Literally losing a game with a special teams penalty, a year after the Giants lost a touchdown on a fake field goal for an illegal shift, it shouldn’t be happening under a head coach with a special teams background who demanded attention to detail and claimed to have little tolerance for sloppy mistakes.
Thursday’s loss also featured the Giants absolutely kicking away a gift-wrapped opportunity late in the game. After Taylor Heinicke threw an ill-advised interception while his team led by a point with 2:22 left in the game, the Giants took over at the Washington 20-yard line. They gained three yards and drained just 16 seconds off the clock before kicking the go-ahead field goal, leaving Washington with two minutes and a timeout to mount the game-winning drive.
The game also featured the Giants running out of time on the play clock … after coming out of a timeout. (That technically went down as a false start, but that movement only came a full second after the play clock hit zero.) It also featured the Giants having to take a timeout because they had too many men on the field on defense … after a timeout.
Oh, and it featured not one but two sideline blow-ups. Receiver Kenny Golladay was seen yelling at someone — perhaps offensive coordinator Jason Garrett:
On second look, I kinda think Golladay is yelling at someone next to Daniel Jones 🤔 pic.twitter.com/UPNVTHLCu9
— Adam Lefkoe (@AdamLefkoe) September 17, 2021
Elsewhere on the sideline, Judge had a conversation with receiver Kadarius Toney, one that left Toney feeling a bit perturbed.
“He didn’t yell at anyone, like another Giants receiver, but he was clearly unhappy,” Rosenblatt described. “It was written on his face. He crossed his arms and stood alone, away from his teammates. He didn’t go back in the game.”
On Friday, Toney posted on Instagram, “I don’t be mad s–t just be lame to me [for real].”
On the one hand, had Lawrence not jumped a fraction of a second early, the Giants would be 1-1, and the reaction on this Friday might have been more muted.
But that critical penalty was not an anomaly, as the Giants just aren’t the disciplined, focused team that Judge promised they’d be, way back in January of 2020, when he was “winning the press conference.”
“We will play fundamentally sound, we will not beat ourselves,” Judge boldly declared last January. “That is our mission right here.”
The Giants haven’t been particularly disciplined since then, and they haven’t been particularly impressive — just one of their six wins last year came against a team that finished the season with a winning record. The outlook for Judge bucking the historical trend of Belichick coaching disciples having trouble out on their own doesn’t look too good.