There have been mistakes, botched assignments and turnovers through the first six weeks of Joe Judge’s tenure as the Giants’ coach. But there’s one important thing we haven’t seen during a 1-5 start: Finger-pointing.
Even before the Giants finally broke through for Judge’s first win in a less-than-perfect 20-19 win over Washington on Sunday, there wasn’t a hint of discord among the players.
It’s no accident.
Judge has lived up to his reputation as a disciplinarian who demands hard work and accountability from his team. And an important byproduct, one that will be as important to the team as wins and losses moving forward, is unity of purpose.
In the ultimate team game, Judge demands his team remains as one.
"I’ve been on teams where we’ve gone 0-4, 0-5 in the beginning of the season, and you can feel guys hanging their heads, you can feel guys giving up on the team and there’s a lot of division on a team with that," defensive lineman Leonard Williams said.
Williams is referencing, of course, the Jets teams he played with before being traded to the Giants midway through last season. Williams had just one winning season with the Jets, in his rookie year, and then saw firsthand how difficult it could be to keep a team together during long bouts of losing.
But this team feels different.
"I think even though we’ve been not winning as much as we wanted to in the beginning of the season," he said, "we’ve been really tight in these games and guys are having each other’s backs and working hard. People are still coming to work every day expecting to win, and I think that shows the type of guys we have on this team. It makes me happy to be here."
Contrast that with what’s happening in Dallas, where coach Mike McCarthy is already dealing with a locker room brushfire. With the Cowboys off to a 2-4 start, made even worse by the season-ending injury to Dak Prescott, unnamed players are sounding off about the coaching staff. McCarthy is now having to explain himself to try and quell what could grow into a full-blown mutiny on a team loaded with big-name players.
"I think like a lot of things when you hit a part of your season, or any challenge where there is negativity out there and where it comes from and who it comes from, that’s something that I’ve never chased," McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday. "I think you do have to recognize it. I just really go back to my first meeting with the football team. I’ve always stated that . . . it’s important to handle things as men."
It’s a bad look for a coach, especially one who has a Super Bowl on his resume.
"I mean, if you do have something to say publicly, I think it’s important to say it to the individual, or particularly in a group dynamic setting, especially in the game of football, especially for the Dallas Cowboys," he said. "I mean, that’s all part of the development of our program, of the system that we’ve got going here. I think that’s just part of our flight right now."
There is no such bickering among the Giants, and there isn’t likely to be any under Judge, regardless of his record. One of the most important things he learned from the very start of his life as a youth football player for his demanding father, Joseph, in a CYO league in suburban Philadelphia, and then as a coach under Nick Saban and Bill Belichick is that discipline is the very foundation of any football team. In a sport that requires cohesion among 11 players on every single play, there is simply no other way than to demand accountability and reject selfishness.
That doesn’t mean you have to get your players to dislike you; it does require them to respect you. And even though it’s very early in Judge’s tenure, you see the respect his players have for him. You also see the admiration. Like the time they mobbed him when he took part in a fumble recovery drill in training camp. And the time he sent practice squad receiver Derrick Dillon home — with pay — to be with his family for the birth of his first child.
And the time they poured Gatorade over him in the locker room after his first win on Sunday.
The Giants are still a long way from winning a championship, and that day might never come, given how difficult it is to reach the NFL’s mountaintop. But if they ever do get there, it will be in large part because of a coach who will not accept anything other than a team-first mentality.