EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants were riding their train on the way home from Baltimore yesterday evening when they learned the results of the late afternoon games involving NFC East teams that left them with an opportunity to win the division title on the final weekend of the regular season.
But Joe Judge would prefer his players not think about the possibility of playing in the postseason but instead concentrate on their Week 17 opponent, the Dallas Cowboys.
It's the same approach the first-year coach has taken all year.
"I actually met with the team last night when we got back to make sure we were set on what the plan for the week was," Judge said on a Zoom call today. "Our focus still needs to remain on the Cowboys. That's the priority this week. We remain focused on improving as a team. We have a division rival coming up ahead, it's a big game for us. Obviously, there are implications. As I've said all along, those games right now don't exist. Until I can talk about any kind of opponent coming up beyond who we're playing, there's not a conversation to be had. Our focus remains on the Cowboys."
Dallas has won three consecutive games to improve to 6-9. On Oct. 11, the Cowboys defeated the Giants in AT&T Stadium, 37-34, on Greg Zuerlein's 34-yard field goal as time expired. Dallas has won the last seven games between the teams.
The Giants are alive in the division race despite a three-game losing streak that has dropped their record to 5-10. The winner of their game against Dallas in MetLife Stadium at 1 p.m. Sunday must then wait for the result of the Washington Football Team vs. Eagles game that night in Philadelphia. A Washington victory will give it the division crown at 7-9. Should Dallas win and Washington lose, the Cowboys will stand alone at 7-9 and the Giants will finish third at 5-11. But if the Giants and the Eagles – who are eliminated - each win, all three contenders will be 6-10. The Giants would claim the championship based on their 3-1 head-to-head record vs. Dallas and Washington.
Yesterday, the Giants lost to the Ravens in the 1 o'clock window, 27-13. Dallas and Washington each played late in the afternoon, giving Judge and the Giants an opportunity to monitor their games as they returned to New Jersey. The Cowboys crushed the Eagles, 37-17, while Washington lost to the Carolina Panthers, 20-13.
"Being on the train, actually we had the game streaming in the background," Judge said. "We had kind of a little conference room in the front car that I was in. Me and (defensive coordinator) Pat Graham sat in there. We went through the defensive tape together and watched like we do, we did the same thing coming back from Washington and talked some ball. We were kind of checking scores throughout the league with a lot of games going. That's kind of normal custom right there. Everyone's kind of checking scores around the league. Last night was no different. Obviously, there were some division games going on that we were conscious of. We checked those, we streamed those and watched the end of those games."
Judge was asked what the team's reaction was after learning their Week 17 games would potentially have a division championship at stake.
"To be honest with you, I was actually separate from the rest of the players," Judge said. "They had us very spaced out in the cars. The front car was kind of more coaches than it was players. I saw the players on the back end when we got back to the facility. I called a quick meeting in the bubble just to address how we're going to handle the week going forward, and kind of clear up any questions that may have come up. To be honest with you, look, the questions about the playoffs, these are things the players obviously have as well.
"We're going to keep our focus on Dallas. We're not getting focused on the playoffs. I truly believe what I said earlier. This is a hypothetical game. The only thing we can control is what we do against Dallas. At the same time, there's a human nature that they're very conscious of what's going on around the league. It would be naïve or ignorant to pretend that they're not paying attention as well. When we got back, I grabbed the team and just kind of let them know what the situation is, but really, reaffirm the importance of staying focused on Dallas. That's all we can control."
The players, no doubt following a directive from Judge, have virtually abstained from discussing the division race and postseason permutations.
"I'm just focused on Dallas," center Nick Gates said. "We have to beat Dallas first to be able to even think about the playoffs. After we beat them, we have to see if Washington wins. I'm just focused on Dallas and trying to give ourselves the best opportunity."
"Our coaches hit it best," said middle linebacker and defensive captain Blake Martinez. "They said, you always want to have meaningful December football games. Obviously, this game will be in January, so meaningful January games. To be able to have that, every competitor, especially in the NFL, wants to have that opportunity."
And what are Martinez's thoughts about the Giants' playoff chances?
"You just go about each and every week the same that we have been doing since the start of the season," Martinez said. "Just making sure we get better. Going to work Monday, making improvements that we need to from the previous game. Just focus on what we can do as a team to be better than we were last week. Be better than we were to start the season. As long as we're doing that and showing it the following Sunday, whatever ends up happening, happens. We're ready to go and we'll do the same thing if we get another chance to re-focus in and get back to work the following Monday after that."
Martinez is one captain clearly following the orders of his general.
*Safety Logan Ryan has been elected winner of the 20th annual George Young Good Guy Award, as voted on by the Giants' chapter of the Professional Football Writers of America.
The award, named for the late general manager of the Giants, is given annually to recognize a Giants player for his consistent and outstanding cooperation with the writers who cover the team on a daily basis. Ryan, in his first season with the Giants, appeared on every ballot cast and received 14 of a possible 16 first-place votes for the honor.
Ryan is the third player to win the award in his first year with the team, following Kurt Warner (2004) and Rashad Jennings (2014) in that regard.
Defensive lineman Leonard Williams finished in second place in the voting and linebacker Blake Martinez finished third. The only players other than Ryan to receive first-place votes were center Nick Gates and fullback Eli Penny. In all, 10 different players appeared on the 16 ballots cast. Two players on the team, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram, were ineligible for the award this year having won it in the past two seasons.
Winners of the George Young Good Guy Award
2020 – S Logan Ryan
2019 – TE Evan Engram
2018 – WR Sterling Shepard
2017 – S Landon Collins
2016 – WR Victor Cruz
2015 – CB Prince Amukamara
2014 – RB Rashad Jennings
2013 – CB Terrell Thomas
2012 – S Antrel Rolle
2011 – WR Victor Cruz
2010 – DT Barry Cofield
2009 – DE Mathias Kiwanuka
2008 – QB Eli Manning
2007 – DE Justin Tuck
2006 – WR Plaxico Burress
2005 – RB Tiki Barber
2004 – QB Kurt Warner
2003 – WR Ike Hilliard
2002 – QB Kerry Collins
2001 – OL Lomas Brown