He came to the Giants as a virtual unknown, a loyal lieutenant from the Bill Belichick/Nick Saban coaching tree with no head coaching experience but a vision for the future that convinced John Mara and Steve Tisch they had their man. And if there were any lingering doubts, Joe Judge put on a stirring performance in an introductory news conference that even had former players from the glory days of the Super Bowl years envisioning a bright future.
Nearly two years later, though, Judge’s words now ring hollow for a team that is careening toward a second straight losing season under him and an impending dismantling of the front office led by general manager Dave Gettleman, whose failed overhaul that began in 2018 is likely in its final days.
Judge may get a reprieve for next season, given the bad hand he has been dealt because of a woefully inadequate roster. But he should not escape scrutiny for failing to make this the kind of team he promised: a team this region would be proud to support because of its toughness, resilience and pride.
Those traits are in short supply for the 4-8 Giants, who are coming off a dispiriting 20-9 loss to the Dolphins after backup Mike Glennon failed to light a spark in the absence of an injured Daniel Jones. Glennon came out of Sunday’s game with a concussion, so it’spossible that the Giants will be forced to go with journeyman Jake Fromm, who was signed off the Bills’ practice squad last week after Jones was injured against the Eagles, on Sunday against the Chargers.
With or without Jones, it’s hard to envision the Giants beating a Los Angeles team that is coming off an impressive road win against the Bengals. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Giants don’t win another game all season and wind up at 4-13 in another humiliating last-place finish. The schedule goes like this: at the Chargers, home to the Cowboys, at the Eagles, at the Bears and home to Washington. Find me a win in there. Maybe Chicago, but even the Bears will be a tough out for a Giants team that can’t score points and is simply not good enough defensively to overcome a miserable offense.
It’s not all Judge’s fault, not with the kind of poor drafting that Gettleman has done that has left the coach with a patchwork roster. The Giants certainly looked better on paper before the season, with the addition of wide receivers Kenny Golladay in free agency and Kadarius Toney in the draft. But Golladay has been alternately injured and unimpressive, and Toney has been mostly injured despite showing flashes of talent in the handful of games he has played.
Adoree’ Jackson is a talented but oft-injured cornerback, and now he’s hurt again. Last year’s marquee free agent, cornerback James Bradberry, has been abysmal through much of this season, and the offensive line, with the exception of left tackle Andrew Thomas, has been mediocre at best.
Judge insists he sees progress with his team, but we’ve learned by now that he will never publicly criticize his players, no matter how poorly they play. That may earn him some points inside the locker room, but it does nothing for what this team has put out there on Sundays.
Quite simply, the Giants are one of the worst teams in football right now, and they have miles to go toward respectability no matter who coaches the team. Judge showed promise last season, getting the Giants competitive after an 0-5 start and fighting the pandemic-related limitations for practice. But they faded down the stretch to fall out of the race in a lousy division.
He had a chance to get off to a good start against beatable opponents the first several weeks, but his decision to barely play his starters in the preseason was a mistake. A young team, especially a young quarterback in Jones, needed the game work over the summer, and Judge overestimated their readiness. An 0-3 start turned into a 1-5 getaway before the Giants began to recover. The clock management issues continue. And his firing of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, while necessary, should have come much sooner — perhaps even before the season began.
By now, it’s too late. Forget the fact that the Giants are two games out of a wild-card playoff spot, because staying competitive for a postseason berth would mean they’d have to start stacking wins, and this team is simply not capable of doing so.
Now it remains to be seen whether Judge gets one more chance in 2022. Or whether the Giants make it three straight two-years-and-out with Judge on the heels of the early ousters of Pat Shurmur and Ben McAdoo.
I don’t suspect Mara will want to look for a new head coach a fourth time after showing two-time Super Bowl winning coach Tom Coughlin the door after the 2015 season. But if Judge does survive an offseason purge of the front office, then it will most certainly be make-or-break next season.