Joe Judge strives for consistency.
"I'm always the same person," the Giants' first-year coach said during the team's five-game season-opening losing streak. "That's just me. Everyone has different personalities. I have mine. Every week is a different week, every opponent is a different opponent. To me, it's important the players come in, they know what they're getting with the person in front of them."
On Sunday, the Giants pushed their early-season struggles further behind them with their third consecutive victory, a 19-17 triumph in Cincinnati that vaulted them into first place in the NFC East with a 4-7 record – until, perhaps, Monday night, when the Philadelphia Eagles, a half-game back, host the Seattle Seahawks.
But when Judge was asked what it means to be at the top of the division, he characteristically preferred to discuss the importance of the team's upcoming week.
"We have to be short-sighted and just focus on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday," Judge said. "I know that sounds like pure coach speak, I completely understand you guys looking at me like, 'Okay Joe," but listen, we start looking past what we have to do to get ready, this conversation is going to be something of the past. We have to make sure we take care of what we have to take care of and put one day on top of another to have a chance next Sunday, which is going to be a great challenge for us to even be in the conversation of what you guys are talking about."
View photos from the Week 12 matchup between the Giants and Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
While the victory was at the forefront, Judge had plenty of news both good and bad to digest.
The former included a dominant defensive performance against a Bengals team that played backup quarterback Brandon Allen after last week's injury to Joe Burrow. Cincinnati finished with just 155 total yards (40 rushing) and 11 first downs. The defense forced three second-half turnovers, including a fumble on the Bengals' final play that was recovered by Leonard Williams.
The Giants gained a season-high 386 yards as Wayne Gallman finished with career-high totals of 24 carries and 94 yards and Evan Engram had a career-best 129 receiving yards, including catches of 53 and 44 yards.
"It was really just good execution by the offense," Engram said. "Good protection and great ball. I've just been working those plays. They played man across the board and we have to win those matchups. I was just trying to make a play for the team."
But Judge has a list of concerns coming out of the game. Foremost was a hamstring injury of undetermined severity suffered by quarterback Daniel Jones, who was replaced by Colt McCoy in the third quarter.
"I'm certainly not discouraged," Jones said. "I think it's tough to tell exactly what it is right now, so we'll get back and examine it. I'm excited to win and get the win and be a part of that, so certainly not discouraged at all and understand I've got to do what I can to get healthy, recover it, recover from it and get back on the field. But certainly want to be out there and it's tough not being out there, but feels great to get a win."
After Gallman scored a touchdown on the game's opening possession, the Giants never again reached the end zone. They turned instead to Graham Gano, who kicked field goals of 49, 40, 39 and 32 yards to extend his streak to 24 consecutive successes, the second-longest streak in franchise history.
Not bad for a player who was activated yesterday from the Reserve/Covid-19 list.
"Man, it was rough," Gano said. "We go from the high of beating the Eagles (before the bye) and then finding out the next day I had Covid. Our medical staff, our trainers and everybody are fantastic. Even our team helping me out throughout the week when I was sick, bringing food and things I needed, it was awesome. A bit of a roller coaster, but I'm happy that I was able to come back and play today and it's all because of the guys and everybody with the team around us."
Despite Gano's field goal perfection, the special teams did not have a special day. Brandon Wilson scored Cincinnati's first points on a 103-yard kickoff return touchdown, the first allowed by the Giants in more than five years. The punt return team was victimized by a fake punt that gained seven yards and a first down. And the Bengals had a final chance to win the game when Alex Erickson returned Riley Dixon's punt 29 yards to midfield with 57 seconds remaining.
"It wasn't good enough today," Judge said. "We're not going to be able to compete these next five weeks if we don't raise our level of play. Look, we've played well to a degree for the entirety of the season. We've had a lot of progress made in that phase. But it doesn't matter what happened before any specific game. It just matters what you do in that game execution-wise. We've got to play better, coach better; we've got to do a better job all around in that phase of the game. It has to be a strength for us. We have to make sure we get back to work this week to improve.
"Obviously, Cam (Brown) made a game-saving tackle right there. Erickson is one of the best returners in the league, I think he's been that way for a long time. You take him, and you put the kick returner out there as well, and I'm telling you right now, these guys are elite players. I said it early in the week, Darrin Simmons is one of the best coaches in the National Football League, he does a phenomenal job of having his guys prepared. We knew they were going to have some tricks up their sleeves today, they went out there and they made some plays, they executed. We have to do a better job on our part of executing. Coverage has to be a strength for us as a team."
On Sunday, the defense was. Cincinnati had seven second-half possessions – three that ended with punts, two lost fumbles, one interception and a touchdown. The pick was by Niko Lalos, a rookie defensive end who made his NFL debut after he was signed off the practice squad on Saturday.
"From the beginning, he's a guy that just shows constant improvement every day," Judge said. "We talk to our guys all the time, it doesn't matter where you are or what you're doing. These guys have taken a lot of reps for us on the practice squad in their spots. He's worked hard on the special teams and made some improvements there. We talked this week about who we liked in certain roles and his name came up. Obviously, he was a guy that coaches felt confident in, so we put him up for the game. He was able to go in and compete for us and make some plays. To be honest with you, we were not surprised he was around the ball. We see that every day in practice. Practice execution becomes game reality, so he showed up for us today."
It's safe to say Judge will demand that all his players do the same in the season's final five games.