EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – If building a football team is comparable to constructing a skyscraper, the Giants' 6-10 record in Joe Judge's first season as coach is analogous to completing the first six floors.
"I'm not a grades guy," Judge said Monday when asked to grade the Giants' season. "I'm a process guy. I'm a steps along the ladder guy of what you have to accomplish. My number one goal as a coach this year was the foundation and the culture. The reality in this league is, every team, all 32 teams, have to start over to start the next season. You can't carry anything over. However, you can build a foundation to build on the next season. You can build a culture in the locker room with the players and coaches that you're working with.
"I can absolutely say with certainty we accomplished that. We accomplished that with how we worked on a daily basis, we accomplished that with how we held each other accountable as players and coaches, and we accomplished that with how we came to work every day with team-first in everything we did."
When Judge was hired a year ago, he specified to the Mara and Tisch families the kind of team he imagined. He knew the process would include setbacks, disappointments and unforeseen challenges. But they would not knock him off track in building the team and franchise he projected.
"My vision for this team of being a blue-collar team who's going to come to work every day, that we're going to do it with the right kind of people and the right kind of commitment to the team, that we're going to work to reflect the area, that's something I've stuck to consistently and I'm always going to stick to consistently," Judge said. "When I talked to ownership when I came on my interview last year, there was nothing that we did this year that I didn't talk about on that day. At no point did we talk about it being easy. At no point did we talk about it being smooth through transition.
"But we talked about it being a commitment to the process and building this team the right way from the ground up, and laying the foundation and having the team with the right mentality and makeup to fight through the adverse situations and build this thing for a duration, and that it's a long-term vision that we're building. I talked at length early on about not taking shortcuts to try to go ahead and feel good about year one in terms of win or loss column. But our job is to win games, don't make any mistake on that. But we didn't want to take any shortcuts. We wanted to make sure we did it the right way and that we could build this thing for sustained success over the years."
Based on those markers, the Giants took a great leap forward in the 2020 season. The record is a starting point and despite being four games under .500 was almost good enough to win the NFC East title. The Giants defeated Dallas, 23-19, in their season finale yesterday, but missed advancing to the playoffs when the Washington Football Team defeated the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night. Had the Eagles won, the Giants would be hosting Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Saturday night in an NFC Wild Card Game.
Judge today covered numerous topics on a 22-minute season review Zoom call. As expected, one of them was that final game of the NFL regular season. With the Giants' postseason hopes riding on the decisions of Doug Pederson, the Philadelphia coach chose not to kick a tying field goal late in the third quarter and replaced starting quarterback Jalen Hurts with Nate Sudfeld, a backup who hadn't played in more than two years.
Where was Judge and what were his thoughts as he saw those defining events play out?
"I'll let Philadelphia speak for themselves on that in terms of how they approached the game," he said. "Real simply, I was in my office last night. I watched our film from the game yesterday and then I was actually watching our first Tampa game with the Philly-Washington game on in the background. There's been a lot made of that game internally or from the outside. Let me just be very clear on this, we had 16 opportunities this year, that's it. It's our responsibility to take care of our opportunities and perform better and execute the situations when they're on our plate. We don't ever want to leave our fate in the hands of anybody else. We're not going to make excuses as an organization. Not now, not ever. We had our opportunities. We need to learn from the lessons we have from this year and carry them forward. That's the experience you truly gain. That's really the most important thing right there, our opportunities."
But Judge left no doubt if his team was in the Eagles' situation, his decisions would be much different.
"The one thing to keep in mind with this season is we had a lot of people opt into this season - coaches, players, that includes family members as well. To look at a group of grown men who I ask to give me effort on a day-in, day-out basis and to empty the tank. I can look them in the eye and assure them that I'm always going to do everything I can to put them in a competitive advantage and play them in a position of strength.
"To me, you don't ever want to disrespect those players and their effort and disrespect the game. The sacrifices that they made to come in to work every and test before coming in. To sit in meetings spaced out. To wear masks, to have shields over those masks. To go through extensive protocols, to travel in unconventional ways. To get text messages at 6:30 in the morning telling them practice was going to be canceled. We have to do a virtual day. To tell them to please don't have your family over for Thanksgiving. Please avoid Christmas gatherings. We know it's your wife's birthday. Let's make sure we put that one off to the offseason. There's a number of sacrifices that have been made by all the players and coaches in this league. There's a number of sacrifices that come along as well for the family members of the people connected to them. To disrespect the effort that everyone put forward to make this season a success for the National Football League, 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 am the head coach of the New York Giants."
Judge had many other newsworthy nuggets as the Giants head into the offseason:
*The Giants finished 31st in the NFL with an average of 17.5 points-per-game. Eleven of the 14 playoff teams finished in the top 14 in scoring and none was lower than Washington's No. 25 ranking. How can the Giants improve their offensive output?
"The process of the (next), let's call it a month and a half to two months, is going to be about us doing internal self-scouting, evaluation schematically, personnel, how we're using our players, what could we do better," Judge said. "That's going to include not only what we're doing but also things around the league as well. That's kind of standard throughout the offseason of a lot of teams. Whereas last year we got together as a staff, there was a lot of install to get the systems in. This year, it will be a lot of self-scout and the league study to make sure we can find better ways of using our players, putting them in the best position possible going forward, and making sure we make any playbook adjustments, schematically or philosophically, going into next year."
*Judge will not discuss potential changes to his coaching staff – assistants either going or coming – until they are certified.
"I'm not now nor will I ever comment on any coach's job, job prospects or any hypothetical reports about jobs until something is finalized and official," Judge said. "I think it's easy to acknowledge we've had a number of coaches do a good job. I probably expect a number of requests for several of our coaches throughout this offseason. We'll deal with that internally as they come up. … If it's about a job of a member of our staff, I'm not going to comment on that at any point now or going forward."
*Judge will "definitely" spend part of this month staying away from the office and spending time with his family.
"I laid out the calendar for the coaches," he said. "Beyond most of February there's a lot of unknowns. We don't know what the spring program is going to bring, the Combine is not really in concrete yet, we don't know if that's solid, we're assuming the Senior Bowl is going to go on. There's a lot of kind of marker points throughout the year – even the free agency dates – that aren't in concrete yet for us to work on, so we're going to work this week as coaches. There's a lot of end of season reports, player evaluations, initial scheme evaluations, things that of that nature that they're going to finalize by the end of the week and then I want them to get out of town, to be honest with you. I want them all to get out of here and refresh mentally, catch up physically, get some sleep, see their wives, see their kids.
"We've got coaches on this staff who haven't seen family since July. (Running backs coach) Burton Burns' wife and grandkids are down in Alabama, weren't able to come up here with the COVID situation, so Burton hasn't seen his family since July. (Assistant coach of special projects and situations) Amos Jones' family, he's got a kid in high school out there in Arizona. He hasn't had a chance to have any interaction. In a normal year, they would've come out here for games. This has been a weird year because of travel, they've been without seeing each other, so it's important for me for them to go see their families, reconnect with their wives and kids."
As for Judge…
"I'll absolutely do the same," he said. "But there's going to be a number of things that come up on my schedule a little bit different, I won't be able to fully step away at all times. However, there is going to be a period of a week, two weeks, whatever that may be that I'm going to go ahead and throw the phone in the drawer, which I kind of do – unless your last name is Mara or Tisch, don't give me a phone call, I'll get in touch with you. There's going to be time that I'll find time to reconnect with the family, the (four) kids especially, that's definitely a key part of it. … I'll definitely find some time for myself and my family and make sure we reconnect."