EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Julian Love has missed only one game in his four NFL seasons, and it was not due to injury. On Sept. 22, 2019 – the day Daniel Jones made his first career start – Love was a healthy scratch in the Giants thrilling 32-31 victory against the Buccaneers in Tampa.
"They told me right before the game when we got to the stadium," Love said today. "My family traveled out to that game. I was devastated because I didn't know that was a thing. I didn't know that was a possibility that I could be healthy and go into the game and not be playing. So, that was a reality check, an NFL moment for me. But since then, TMac (Thomas McGaughey, special teams coordinator) just told me, 'Never give them a reason to make you inactive.'"
Love has done that and much, much more. In his first three seasons, he played several positions as the team's most versatile defensive back and was a special teams standout. This year, he has blossomed into one of the Giants' best and most valuable players.
Prior to the season, Love was elected one of the Giants' 10 captains. He is the only member of the injury-depleted secondary to start all 13 games entering Sunday's key contest in Washington against the NFC East rival Commanders. Love leads the team with 99 tackles (38 more than his previous career high and 39 more than runner-up Jaylon Smith), including 65 solo (no one else has more than 40). His five special teams tackles tie Carter Coughlin for the team lead.
Love also has a team-high two interceptions. He joins Tennessee's David Long. Jr. and Houston's Jalen Pitre as the only NFL players currently leading his team outright in both total tackles and interceptions. The last Giant to accomplish that double was Antrel Rolle in 2013.
"I think this is now the standard that I set," Love said, "and the goal is to just keep raising that bar each year."
Jerome Henderson, the Giants' defensive backs coach since 2020, is confident Love will do exactly that.
"Julian is one of those guys who is just steady, dependable, reliable," Henderson said. "You know what you're getting from him. He's going to have a good attitude every day. He's going to come in and do things right all the time. Julian Love is a jack of all trades and the master of selflessness. He will put the team before himself in every circumstance and try to do what's right for the team and sometimes not what's best for Julian. If it's best for the team, that's what he's going to do. He's done a good job of it all year."
Love has recorded double-digit tackle totals in three games this season, including a career-high 14 against Dallas on Sept. 26 and 13 in the 20-20 tie with Washington two weeks ago. He has played every defensive snap in 11 of 13 games.
But Love's impact stretches far beyond numbers. With the bye-week injury suffered by Xavier McKinney, Love assumed the duties of playing free safety and relaying defensive coordinator Wink Martindale's calls to the players on the field.
"It's exciting, especially because early in the season, I was playing a lot in the box as a dime, and I was blitzing a lot," Love said. "So, that was just a huge moment for me, really, because I'd never done that before. And it was really fun and exciting. And now, kind of taking care of the back end is an opportunity. And (my) production's gone up just because I play more. I feel like I was super productive in my limited time these past couple of years. And the average person may not see that, but I know that's just what the case was."
Because he is both captain and signal-caller, Love has naturally become more of a leader this season.
"I've seen him grow and become more comfortable," Henderson said. "Comfortable to have the hard discussions or hard talks with people and his peers, to challenge guys to step up when (they) need to step up and be heard. He's done a great job. He's had to step up and take on a much bigger role for us as the play-caller and also communicating with the young guys in the secondary. He's done a great job of that. He studies and he prepares."
"I just try not to do anything outside of who I am," Love said. "X is a very vocal leader for us; he still is for us with this team. I am just honestly not that guy. I am the guy who just kind of does his work and hope my energy and my confidence feeds off to other people. That's kind of my leadership style. So, I didn't change courses too much."
That is true of his general demeanor. Love is naturally friendly and outgoing, someone who regularly engages with reporters at his locker on a variety of subjects. If a smile is not permanently affixed to his face, it never takes a full day off.
Henderson said he has "never" seen Love in a bad mood.
"Even when you give him news that maybe he doesn't want to hear, he just handles it in stride," Henderson said. "He's a professional. He has a great demeanor about everything, and again, puts people first. He's been phenomenal."
Love denies that his personality changes on a football field.
"It's just easy to get locked in," he said. "I feel like you got to tap into the zone. I think everybody has their optimal zone for performance. Mine tends to be lower; I'm not a 'hoot and holler, rah rah' guy. I'm a guy who needs to be locked in and ready to beat the team across from me."
Is he a trash talker?
"On a scale of one to 10, I'm probably like a four," he said. "So, nothing too crazy. Nothing aggressive, but you get some good jabs in here or there."
Because his contract expires at the end of the season, Love has been asked numerous times about his future. But right now, he's interested only in helping the Giants earn their first postseason berth since his arrival.
"I kind of grind away, continue to play well, keep being who I am," he said. "I know the chips will fall where they will after the season. So, it's an exciting time. Right now, it's been such a fun year. I'm excited to see what the future holds. But until then, just keep playing my brand of football."
*The three players who did not practice this week were officially declared out of the game: cornerback Adoree' Jackson (knee) and offensive linemen Shane Lemieux (toe) and Joshua Ezeudu (neck).
Five players are questionable: tight end Daniel Bellinger (rib), wide receiver Richie James (concussion), cornerback Nick McCloud (illness), linebacker Jihad Ward (concussion) and defensive lineman Leonard Williams (neck).
*The Commanders listed defensive end Chase Young as questionable. Young, the second overall selection in the 2020 draft, has not played since tearing his ACL on Nov. 14, 2021. He has been limited in practice.
View rare photos of the all-time series between the New York Giants and the Washington Commanders.