The unsettling reality behind Joe Judge’s coded Giants evaluation
We are not good enough.
Joe Judge said it. Without saying it.
There are code words and phrases and paragraphs that infer what will not be put out there for all to hear. If you listen closely, you can detect it.
Judge, the first-year Giants head coach, admits his team is not good enough to win. Or, more precisely, not good enough to win unless it does everything almost perfectly. Which almost never happens. Which is why they almost never win. Judge did not come out and say it and he has yet to offer up any excuses for losing six times in his seven games. But this is telling:
“We’ve played enough ball at this point and we should know what we have as a team,’’ Judge said early Friday morning, the ache and pain and stain of Thursday night’s 22-21 collapse and loss to the Eagles still raw and cold and gnawing.
“We should understand how we have to play as a team. We know we have to be a team that’s got to grind out wins. We have to do things just a little bit tougher, and that’s alright. We’re okay with doing it that way.’’
This is how coaches talk when their roster is either limping, lacking, lousy or all of the above. “Grind out wins’’ is a way of saying “We’re not talented enough to run and throw and tackle with any of the really skilled teams out there.’’ Stating “We have to do things just a little bit tougher’’ is coach-speak, acknowledging there must be all sorts of scheming and planning and orchestrating to keep this a competitive, because merely lining up and banging heads is going to lead to getting knocked out a whole bunch of times.
This is less a revelation than it is a reality check, once again. There were moments in this latest debacle where it seemed easier and certainly more logical for the Giants to win the game than lose it. Double-digit leads are blown in the NFL and picking through the anatomy of a disaster is often a slog through a handful of key developments. If any of them go the other way, the team in the lead wins.
As succinctly as possible, the Giants failed to win after taking a 21-10 lead with 6:17 remaining for two glaring reasons. Their bend-and-then-break defense, after an evening of so much good work, coughed up touchdown on drives of 78 and 71 yards in the final 4:38. In between, the Giants should have put the hammer down and sealed the deal, primed to close the game out with their offense on the field.
They picked up two first downs on Wayne Gallman runs and, remarkably, the Giants, ahead 21-16, were imposing their will. The Eagles were forced to burn their first timeout. What went down on third-and-7 from the Giants 47-yard line might have been the signature throw of Daniel Jones early career, the coming-out-party in Jason Garrett’s run as offensive coordinator and the play that propelled Judge through his rookie season.
When tight end Evan Engram broke free on the left side in Eagles territory, and Jones’ lob rose and then dropped out of the sky as the clock ticked to the two-minute warning, the Giants were a catch away from victory. The ball slipped through Engram’s hands.
There would be no grinding out this win. Engram was not good enough. The Giants were not good enough. Judge did not have to say it for us to know it. There were seven penalties in the final six minutes and breakdowns by Engram, James Bradberry, Logan Ryan and Jabrill Peppers – the players counted on most of all to steer the team away from the iceberg. The Giants had a chance to win in Chicago, in Los Angeles, in Arlington, Texas and in Philadelphia. They lost them all, with this one the worst of all.
As Judge said, by now we should know what the Giants are as a team. The truth hurts.
More, if you can take it, oozing out of loss No. 6 for the Giants:
— There is something not right about Evan Engram. Something is not computing with him. We know is he labeled an underachiever and, some would say, a bust as a former first-round draft pick. He is better than this. Those seam routes he used to run, and every so often putting on his display his athletic ability, are not there. This new coaching staff is trying to get him the ball on the move by handing it to him or pitching it to him, which is fine. He is struggling more than ever, though. He has 21 career drops since he arrived in 2017, the most in the NFL among tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus. He is tightening up playing within this detail-oriented environment. Engram is healthy, a hard worker and consistently accountable, in good times (not many) and bad (often). He is signed through the 2021 season and is affordable and young. But something is amiss.
— Stats lie, sometimes. Daniel Jones gets two more turnovers on his ledger and neither was really his fault. The first came when he got a little too much on a throw to Engram that glanced off Engram’s hand for an interception. Assigning blame for that one: 85 percent Engram, 15 percent Jones. The second turnover came with 29 seconds remaining when he was hit by Brandon Graham, sacked and separated from the ball for a fumble. The Giants were on their own 23 yard line, no time and place for Jones to cover up. He has to try to stand in and make a play. So this one is not really on him, either. There is no doubt this is a massive issue with Jones. His 34 turnovers in his first 20 games are the most for an active quarterback since Geno Smith (32 turnovers in 20 games). Jones has played in 20 games and has at least one turnover in 19 of them. The two added to this rap sheet against the Eagles tell a different tale.
— Very calm. That is how the Giants reacted after this terrible loss. At least that is how they reacted about 20 minutes after the game, all cleaned up, as far as judging human emotion through the sanitized lens of Zoom interaction. Peppers sounded annoyed with himself. Jones sounded like his monotone self. Blake Martinez was analytical. Engram was disappointed in himself. Judge was nurturing. No one came close to uttering an obscenity or putting raw emotion on display. “I don’t think you can mistake the calmness for that we’re not disappointed or we’re not frustrated with how things are going,’’ Jones said. “We certainly are when you put in as much work as we do and don’t get the results. We’re certainly frustrated. We’re certainly disappointed. I think when you ask about the mood, we’re in a position to bounce back to control our mood and make sure that’s productive towards what we’re trying to accomplish and towards what we’re trying to do as a team. That’s a challenge now and that’s where we’ll look going forward.”
— It comes as no surprise that the Jones 80-yard run is the longest in Giants history by a quarterback. It also is the longest by any NFL quarterback in nearly five years, since Marcus Mariota of the Titans in 2015 ran 87 yards for a touchdown against the Jaguars. Jones’ run should have gone for an 88-yard touchdown, but he tripped over his own feet and stumbled down at the eight-yard line.
— More on Jones: He will not utter one word of criticism about a teammate. Everyone knows Engram has to catch that pass late in in the fourth quarter. Of course Jones knows it. This is what Jones said about it: “Just a pressure look. I tried to get the ball out of my hands and I dropped out. I have to do a better job with that.’’ And this: “I have to do a better job putting the ball in a better position. The look is a specific one so I have to do a better job of recognizing that.’’ Would it have been so terrible if Jones said something like “Evan needs to catch that ball and next time I have complete confidence that he will.’’ It is not Jones’ way, at least not in his second year in the NFL. It was never Eli Manning’s way, either.
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