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Joe Judge thought back on his initial interview with the Giants, one year ago Friday, and what he told ownership about how he wanted and needed to do if he got the job.
“I talked at length early on about not taking shortcuts to try to go ahead and feel good about Year 1, in terms of win or loss column,’’ Judge said Monday, the day after his first season with the Giants came to an end. “But our job is to win games, don’t make any mistake on that. We didn’t want to take any shortcuts, we wanted to make sure to build it the right way and we can build this thing for sustained success over the years.’’
Sustained success can only arrive when initial success takes up residence in the building, and that has not happened yet for Judge. The Giants finished 6-10 in his year as a head coach, missing out on the playoffs and first place in the historically bad NFC East by one game.
“We didn’t make the playoffs, it sucks, but I think we’re trending upwards,’’ center Nick Gates, who did not miss a snap all season said. “Joe Judge is doing a really good job changing the culture in this place and everything is trending upwards.’’
First place and playoffs were not first on the list for Judge, though. Not in 2020.
“My No. 1 goal as a coach this year was the foundation and the culture,’’ he said. “I can absolutely say with certainty we accomplished that.’’
The Giants were engaged in 10 one-score games; they won five of them and lost five of them. They beat Washington, the division champs, by one and three points, beat the Bengals by two. They lost to the Bears by four points, the Cowboys by three, the Buccaneers by two and the Eagles by one. Fiddling with either-or scenarios could have the Giants sitting at 10 wins or 15 losses. They were blown out four times and only once did they win by as much as 10 points.
Gates singled out the 37-34 loss in Dallas and the 22-21 loss two weeks later in Philadelphia as the most galling. The Giants blew a 17-3 lead and lost on a field goal as time expired to the Cowboys and blew a 21-10 lead to the Eagles to lose after giving up 12 points in the final 4:38.
“The first Eagles game down in Philly, that one kind of sucked,’’ Gates said. “The Dallas game, the last-second field goal, that one kind of stung.’’
Judge lost his first five games and was 1-7 at midseason. He insists he learned more about the character of his team amid all that failure than he did in the second half of the season, as the Giants went 5-3, providing evidence that they indeed were on the way up and learning how to win.
“From the end of the games we had to the slow start, going 0-5 and 1-7, we had some knockout-punch games and through the adversity nobody in the locker room ever quit, the energy never shifted,’’ tight end Evan Engram said. “This was a culture we built this year that stood in the rain and stood in the adversity and continued to fight.’’
Judge did not make any revelations as far as his coaching staff, declining to say if Jason Garrett will return as offensive coordinator. The Giants averaged 17.5 points a game this season; only the Jets scored fewer points.
He did say continuity is important. Daniel Jones regressed in almost every statistical category in his second season, his first in Garrett’s system.
“For any player on the team, notably the quarterback, it’s important to have a solid base on it,’’ Judge said, “but they’ve got to evolve in their careers as we go along the way as well. You can’t be afraid of changes or adjustments within our own systems or schemes.’’
Jones said: “I’m not sure I’m in a position to comment on that’’ when asked if he wanted to see Garrett return.
“I can just say that I have loved working with coach, and I learned a ton from him,’’ Jones said. “He’s a tremendous football coach, a tremendous person. I’d love to continue to work with him.’’
In his introductory press conference, Judge spoke at length about his desire for the Giants to reflect the grit and determination of the New York/New Jersey area. He believes his team hit the mark.
“I can absolutely say yes,’’ Judge said.