During his infamous 11-minute answer about why fans should believe in him following Sunday’s humiliating 29-3 loss to the Bears in Chicago, Joe Judge hit on any number of topics. Including a defense of his nearly two years as the Giants’ coach that appeared to take aim at two other coaches – one of whom he faces on Sunday when the Washington Football Team comes to MetLife Stadium to finish out the regular season.
"This ain’t a team that’s having fistfights on the sidelines," Judge said at one point. "This ain’t some clown show organization or something else."
Fistfights on the sidelines? A reference, perhaps, to Ron Rivera’s WFT defensive linemen Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, who had to be separated during a 56-14 blowout loss to the Cowboys on Dec. 26?
Judge took even more direct aim at his predecessor, Pat Shurmur, who was fired after a dismal two-year run in 2019. The current coach said of the erstwhile coach that "everybody quit" and "everybody tapped" by the end of Shurmur’s 9-23 run. This even though the Giants actually won two of their final three games under Shurmur, losing out on a chance to draft blue-chip pass rusher Chase Young, who went to Washington.
And now comes the fallout.
Shurmur, now the Broncos’ offensive coordinator, bristled Wednesday when asked about it.
"I obviously – that’s not an accurate assessment," he told reporters. "But beyond that, I have no comment."
"Honestly, I just find that interesting, and I have no response to that," he said Wednesday on a Zoom call. "For me, the important thing is that we play on Sundays more than anything, and I’m more concerned with getting ready to play a football game."
Judge insists he wasn’t pointing a finger at the WFT.
"No, I just made a comment to any outward dysfunction," he said Wednesday. "My focus is on getting our team ready for Washington right now. You could make a lot [out] of comments I’ve said in the past. Right now, I’m focusing on getting the team ready for Washington this weekend."
For now, let’s consider this a garden variety kerfuffle that won’t spill over into any overt hostility on Sunday. Then again, don’t underestimate the motivational leanings of football players, especially if they feel their coach is being questioned. Even Rivera, who previously played for the Bears at a time when Chicago was one of the league’s premier teams and attracted plenty of attention for fiery comments that came from inside the locker room, acknowledged there’s nothing wrong with adding some fuel to the fire.
He said trash talk "is all part of the game, and that "there’s nothing wrong with having a chip on your shoulder" if players believe Judge was questioning the locker room harmony of another team. Especially after Judge’s own team engaged in a bench-clearing melee in training camp, after which he berated the team in an expletive-filled manner for several minutes and then made them run gassers.
For now, Rivera is taking the high road.
"My feels are I’ve got enough respect for the Giants’ organization, what Mr. [John] Mara and Mr. [Steve] Tisch have done there. This is one of the staples of the NFL, as far as I’m concerned. And we’re just two teams getting ready to play Sunday."
Judge said he hasn’t spoken to either Mara or Tisch about the contents of his 11-minute postgame rant.
"I talk to ownership a good bit all the time," he said. "In terms of any of the things I’ve said, no."
So yes, there is some spice to be added to a matchup of NFC East also-rans, two teams that had high hopes coming into the season but have badly underperformed. The Giants invested millions in free agency and draft capital for what they’d hoped would be a playoff run, but they’ve lost five straight games, and questions have surfaced about whether Judge will be retained. It’s a foregone conclusion that Dave Gettleman, who has presided over a miserable roster-building epoch since 2018, will not be back next season.
Washington, which won the division at 7-9 last season, briefly flirted with playoff contention earlier in the season, but has lost four games in a row. Rivera’s job isn’t expected to be on the line, but he acknowledges he isn’t getting off scot-free.
"Am I feeling pressure? Yes, because I want to win," he said. "I feel the pressure because I said that, in the third year [in 2022], I expect us to take a big step … Am I feeling pressure? Absolutely. But I think the pressure is there every day. It’s just whether you are sweating or not."
Neither Rivera nor Judge will let anyone see them sweat. But two years into their respective tenures in the NFC East, the heat is most certainly on. Even more so for the loser of Sunday’s game.