EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – All it took was a short walk from the field to the locker room in MetLife Stadium for Joe Judge to begin thinking about how the Giants can have a far more successful year in 2022 than the one they just endured.
The Giants' 2021 season officially ended Sunday with another one-sided loss punctuated by an unproductive offense. The 22-7 defeat to the Washington Football Team was their sixth in a row and left them with a 4-13 record.
Their offensive struggles continue as they finished with 177 total yards, 83 net passing yards, 10 first downs, and one touchdown in the fourth quarter. They scored just two touchdowns in their final four games. The loudest cheers Sunday were for backup lineman Korey Cunningham, who repeatedly entered the game as an extra blocker/eligible receiver, much to the delight of a crowd that clapped and roared each time referee Adrian Hill announced the move.
"Obviously, the fans deserve better than what we gave them this year," Judge said in his postgame news conference. "Our team deserves better than what we accomplished this year. I have much higher expectations as a team. I'm never going to compromise or negotiate on that. My expectations are what they are. As I've said a number of times, I'm very proud of a lot of things our team has done through a lot of adversity this year. There's a lot of circumstances they've handled without blinking. I'm very proud of that. I'm very proud of that.
"Ultimately, it wasn't good enough. My focus right now is already on next season immediately and changing everything we have to, making every necessary adjustment so we come out here next year and we play the type of football that we have the exact results that we want to have as an organization."
When the season began, the Giants were confident they would contend for a playoff berth. But they lost their first three and five of their first six games and never recovered. They didn't win consecutive games all season. Along the way, they lost several key players to injuries, including captains Blake Martinez, Jabrill Peppers, and quarterback Daniel Jones, plus Sterling Shepard.
No one could have imagined in August that they would win only four games.
"I don't think anyone thought that," safety Logan Ryan said. "Definitely was not the expectation. Didn't go our way – for not getting it done, for a lot of reasons, it didn't go our way. Obviously, in my career I haven't been in this position before, I've spoken on that. That's a good thing, but I'm learning the other side of it now. I'm learning the other side of the spectrum and trying to get some meaning in between. I've been in Super Bowls years ago, who cares? Now, playing a game out of playoff contention, it's different. I think at least it gives me perspective on both sides of it and I think a lot to learn from this season."
View photos from the Week 18 matchup between the Giants and Washington at MetLife Stadium.
In 17 games, the Giants scored 258 points, 22 less than they totaled in a 16-game season in 2020. The Giants did not score more than 29 points in any game this season. They did not have a receiver with 50 catches. Their wideouts caught just five touchdown passes and Darius Slayton ended a nine-game drought when he scored on a 22-yard throw from Jake Fromm with 11:24 remaining. Running backs Saquon Barkley and Devontae Booker totaled 44 yards on 19 carries, a 2.3-yard average.
So, it was no surprise what Judge put on the top of his offseason to-do list.
"There's a number of things," he said. "Obviously, we have to have better offensive production. We'll go through the evaluation process and get into that. There's a number of other things on the list, as well. I'm not going to go through a full diagnosis. I don't think it takes much thinking to go ahead and list the offensive production as an obvious thing we've got to correct immediately around here."
This game was like many others this season. The defense played well but didn't get enough support from the offense. It was just 6-0 at halftime, but Judge was not willing to take chances with Fromm playing quarterback, a depleted group of wideouts, and a weakened offensive line (guard Will Hernandez, who had played every snap this season, left the game early with an ankle injury).
Trailing 3-0, the Giants took possession after a punt at their own three-yard line with 5:42 left in the second quarter. In a similar situation last week in Chicago, Booker was tackled in the end zone for a safety, a key in helping the Bears score eight points in the final 61 seconds of the half.
This time, an incomplete pass to Eli Penny and a false start moved them back to the two. Hoping to avoid a repeat of the Soldier Field calamity, Judge ordered Fromm to twice sneak the ball before a Riley Dixon punt.
"We were backed up," Judge said. "Had a shot at the play-action to get the ball out in the flat. We've got to make the throw and hit the guy right there. Eli was open there. It would've been a good shot coming off the goal line there to get us some yardage and get us some space. Ultimately, we were backed up, I wanted to get room. We were going to push it on forward. I wasn't going to live through what happened last week in Chicago, so we're going to give ourselves room for the punt."
"We did that, we gave ourselves room for the punt. We protected it, we covered well. We played the field position situation I wanted to play. We held them on the next drive and that's the way we want to go ahead and play that. Do we want to do that all the time we're backed up? No, but that was a situation with where we were, we wanted to make sure that the things that we had an issue with last week in Chicago was not going to repeat itself."
But they resurrected other unpleasant facets of the Chicago game, notably costly turnovers and an inability to score.
The Giants still trailed by just six points late in the third quarter when Fromm's pass to Evan Engram was intercepted by Bobby McCain, who returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.
"That's just an option route late outside and can't be late on those," Fromm said. "Got to get better on that and get your feet around."
Fromm found a wide-open Slayton for a 22-yard touchdown that pulled the Giants to within 12-7.
But when it needed to make a stand, the defense didn't respond, giving up an eight-play, 73-yard drive capped by Antonio Gibson running up the middle untouched for an 18-yard touchdown, part of his career-high 146 rushing yards.
"That was the worst part of the day, in my opinion," Ryan said. "Offense gave us an opportunity to make it a game there. Schematically, they just stretched and cut back on us. Until I watch the film, I don't know why or how or what it may have been, but I just think schematically they have some scheme runs that were able to stretch and cut back. Gibson is a good runner and he was just able to stretch out our defense and cut back, get downhill. … We've got to get a stop on that drive and that's just why I'm not up here pointing fingers, not pointing blame. There are plays we could have made on our side to make that a game going into the fourth quarter there."
On the first play of the Giants' ensuing possession, Fromm simply lost the ball (Washington was credited with a seven-yard team sack). Lineman Tim Settle recovered it and returned it to the 12-yard line. Slye soon kicked his third field goal and it was on to the offseason for the Giants.
"There were some things that we could do in the game better to give us a better chance," Judge said. "Ultimately, it wasn't good enough. I'm proud of the team for things they've done and fought through and stayed together as a team this year. Ultimately, it's not good enough. The fans deserve better. It doesn't meet our expectations as a program. It's not going to be acceptable and the things we have to correct we're going to start on immediately going forward in the future and start on next season."