Joe Judge was raised on the virtues of NFC East physicality. He was a card-carrying Philly guy, an Eagles fan who understood what it took to survive and thrive in a division largely defined by the toughness required to win in December.
Despite being raised in the business of football by Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, Judge has made it clear he wants to be linked to Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin, hard-asses who knew how to plow their way through the division on the way to Super Bowl titles. In his opening press conference as Giants coach, this is what Judge said about his planned approach:
“What I’m about is an old-school, physical mentality. We’re gonna put a product on the field that the people of this city and region are going to be proud of because this team will represent this area. We will play fast. We will play downhill. We will play aggressive. We’ll punch you in the nose for 60 minutes. … We’re not going to back down from anybody.”
Giants fans should go ahead and ask themselves a couple of questions after 30 games of the Joe Judge era:
1) On most Sundays, has this been a team that figuratively punches opponents in the nose for 60 minutes?
2) On most Sundays, has this been a team that projects a we’re-not-backing-down-from-anybody vibe?
Again, on introduction, Judge promised a style of play that matches up with the region the Giants represent. “That is blue collar,” he said. “It’s hard work. It’s in your face.”
When’s the last time the Giants really got in somebody’s face in a meaningful way?
Actually, the answer might be 10 years ago this week, when, with a 7-7 record, they pancaked Rex Ryan’s mouthy Jets program on Christmas Eve and never lost again that season.
The Giants have pretty much been a wreck ever since.
It feels as if these dark days will never, ever end. The Giants are 4-10 this year, and 10-20 overall under Judge. They have lost at least 10 games in seven of their past eight seasons. Now they have three games to play before general manager Dave Gettleman is shown the door at last and the search for a new football operations overlord begins. These games seem meaningless outside of their impact on draft position, but there’s always a purpose to an NFL Sunday, and the Giants have one if they want to embrace it.
They can use this Christmas weekend to finally impose their will on someone, as they did on Rex’s Jets on that indelible Christmas weekend a decade back. The Giants can play the kind of tough-guy football guaranteed by their head coach, who will apparently make it to Year 3 despite his record.
Philadelphia would be a perfect place for that to happen for a grown-up Eagles fan who felt wronged by his childhood team last year. Judge’s Giants, who had ended their season 6-10, still had a chance to win the lousy NFC East when Eagles coach Doug Pederson replaced Jalen Hurts with third-stringer Nate Sudfeld in the fourth quarter of a tight game against Washington. That move all but gifted the WFT the division crown, and enraged people throughout the Giants’ organization.
Judge said he’d let the Eagles “speak for themselves on that in terms of how they approached the game,” and brought up all the Giants players, coaches, and family members who had made sacrifices during the pandemic to make the season happen.
“To disrespect the effort that everyone put forward to make this season a success for the National Football League,” he said, “to disrespect the game by going out there and not competing for 60 minutes and doing everything you can to help those players win, we will never do that as long as I’m the head coach of the New York Giants.”
Amen to that, responded Giants fans everywhere. Judge’s tone suggested there would be some form of payback applied, even with Pederson gone, and yes, the Giants did beat the Eagles 13-7 last month despite surrendering 208 rushing yards. But the Giants have a chance Sunday — with a clean season-series sweep — to seriously damage Philadelphia’s hopes of making the playoffs. That would be a score settled after what went down at the end of last year.
Of course, beating the Eagles (7-7) a second time will be a handful. The Giants have lost their past seven games at Lincoln Financial Field, quarterback Jake Fromm will be making his first NFL start and the Eagles own the league’s best running attack. On the other hand, Philly had to play a postponed game Tuesday night. If ever there were an opportunity to physically control an opponent, it should come when that opponent faces an early Sunday kickoff after playing Tuesday night.
“It’s a contact sport, you can’t get around that,” Judge said when he was hired. “It’s meant to be a physical game. It’s for tough people.”
Judge walked in the door promising that, on most Sundays, his players would be the toughest people in the building. It’s time the Giants actually walked that talk.