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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Give Giants credit for finishing strong after woeful start to season

Joe Judge of the Giants reacts on the

Joe Judge of the Giants reacts on the sidelines during a game against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Giants remain a flawed football team that needs better play from its quarterback, more reliable blocking from its rebuilt offensive line, more big plays from the skill position players and more consistently dependable defense. At the heart of any 6-10 team lie problems that need fixing.

But give this group credit: In a season that nearly went off the rails in the first half, when the Giants started 0-5 and then skittered to 1-7, they showed grit, determination and heart in going 5-3 the rest of the way and performed admirably under must-win conditions in Sunday’s regular-season finale.

Facing playoff elimination if they lost to a team they hadn’t beaten since 2016, the Giants did what they had to do in snuffing out the Cowboys’ playoff aspirations with a 23-19 win. It included some tense moments late in which the Cowboys probably should have gone ahead. But the Giants did what Joe Judge asked of them: finish off a game that he insisted would not be decided until the final minutes.

The first-year coach presided over a win that extended the Giants’ season another few hours until the Washington-Philadelphia game decided the NFC East title. That dream died when Washington beat the Eagles, 20-14 — a result helped in large measure by Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s decision to get a look at quarterback Nate Sudfeld with Philly trailing 17-14 in the second half as if it were a late August preseason game. It was a terrible look by Pederson, who absolutely should have stuck with Jalen Hurts to try to win the game.

But when you’re the Giants and you win only six games, you don’t get the luxury of having these breaks go your way. When you win six games, you don’t go to the playoffs.

Even so, Judge saw more tangible proof that the struggles of the first half of the season had helped transform the culture of a team mired in failure through most of their post-Super Bowl XLVI existence.

"It shows we’ve had a lot of growth as a team throughout the year in terms of the wherewithal and fortitude," he said. "I think that’s shown up throughout the year."

He looks back at the early-season problems as an irreplaceable learning experience that served them well in the second half and will help mold his team in the future. While Giants fans saw the all-too-familiar results — namely, losing — Judge could tell things would turn around.

"There were times early in the season when you’re 0-5 and 1-7,’’ he said, "and the sound on the outside may be, ‘How are these guys going to hold up? How are they doing? When’s everybody going to start questioning and looking around?’ "

Judge knew then that self-doubt had not infected his locker room.

"The reality was they were probably our best practices," he said. "We had to learn to practice better as a team and be better execution-wise, but in terms of showing up every day to work and getting the most out of our guys with energy and buy-in, that’s where we made the most progress as a team.

"We would show them tape on Monday and correct the mistakes and let them understand what we had to do better to win games," he said. "Guys understood that and kept coming to work every day. We learned a lot about ourselves in the first half of the year and that carried us to this back half and we had a lot more success."

Even then, it didn’t always go smoothly. They won four straight games to put themselves back in contention, capping the run with a shocking 17-12 win at Seattle. They got the attention of the rest of the league and suddenly had fate in their hands. But then they stumbled against Arizona, Cleveland and Baltimore.

It was the Cowboys who got on a late-season roll, winning three straight before Sunday and giving themselves an unlikely shot at a divisional title. The Cowboys scored a combined 108 points in those wins as Andy Dalton settled in at quarterback.

But the Giants’ defense did a number on Dalton, sacking him six times.

Daniel Jones (106.1 rating) had one of his best games of the season, passing for 229 yards and two touchdowns. He threw an interception, his first in six games, but it wasn’t his fault. His perfect pass tipped off the hands of tight end Evan Engram — where have we seen that before? — and easily was picked off.

At 6-10, you simply haven’t arrived. But Judge has conviction about how his team has progressed. He remains resolute that they someday can be worthy of the towering expectations Giants fans demand from their team.

New York Sports