This was a few minutes before practice on Wednesday. Joe Judge was standing outside the Giants’ training facility, just a few football fields’ distance away from where he’ll stand on the sideline for Sunday’s game against the Rams at MetLife Stadium.
The second-year coach is off to a 1-4 start on the heels of an 0-5 getaway that nearly buried the Giants last season. His team already is three games out of first place, with the high-powered Rams and two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City up next.
It is a daunting situation, and there already are rumblings about whether Judge indeed will be the long-term coach that team president John Mara has so desperately wanted to settle his team down after a decade-long drought.
I wanted to know just how big a challenge it has become for him to keep things together during such a difficult time. The big-picture question was met with a widening smile from Judge. He seemed amused by it, mostly because he doesn’t live in a world of such sweeping observations.
Oh, he understands and accepts that there will be both criticism and speculation.
"There’s a lot of external things," he acknowledged.
But that is not the world in which he lives. His world is in the moment.
"I’m just trying to prepare for the Rams," he said. "That’s it. Our focus right now is preparing today, getting better for Sunday, and coming out and playing against the Rams the best we can. That’s it."
His team is a 10-point underdog against a vastly superior Rams team that already is in the conversation about potential challengers to Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. The Giants aren’t in that realm, of course, not at 1-4 and coming off a dispiriting 44-20 loss to the Cowboys in which they lost Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley and Kenny Golladay to injury.
Jones will be back for the Rams game after going through the concussion protocol. Barkley (ankle) and Golladay (knee) are out. The stakes are huge and the opponent is impressive, but Judge won’t look beyond the next play.
But if Judge won’t allow himself to look ahead, there is no getting around the fact that this has very much turned into a referendum on his suitability as the head coach moving forward. The last thing Mara wants to do is change coaches after only two years for a third straight time and having Judge join Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur. He desperately wants Judge to be his guy the way Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin once were.
Job security is the last thing on Judge’s mind right now, but how he performs in the next 12 games no doubt will factor into whether he will get more time to turn his team into a winner.
But Judge also understands that the way he and the people around him operate during this challenging time will offer clues about how and whether they can fight their way out of this quagmire.
"I think you can only find out who someone truly is through adversity and pressure," he said. "When you have those opportunities, you’ve got to learn a lot about the people you’re around and working with. And you’ve got to learn a lot about yourself."
He’ll soon find out on both counts.
An average Joe: The Giants under Judge
2020 | 2021
Overall: 6-10 | 1-4
At home: 3-5 | 0-2
Giants avg. pts.: 17.5 | 20.6
Opp. avg. pts.: 22.3 | 27.8
Losing streak: 5 | 3
Staley’s perspective on Gruden hits the mark
There was plenty of pointed reaction in the aftermath of Jon Gruden’s stunning fall from grace as the Raiders’ coach resigned on Monday after revelations of several emails he had sent to former Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen. Gruden used racist, misogynist and homophobic language in several emails that were published last week.
But perhaps no one offered the kind of perspective provided by Chargers first-year coach Brandon Staley, who offered the kind of kindness, understanding and empathy to those who were offended by Gruden’s hurtful language.
"I think about all the people that were affected by those emails — whether you’re a person of color, whether you’re a person, you know, a gender, your sexual orientation," Staley said. "That’s who I’m thinking about because it’s a sacred mantle for someone to call you coach or someone to call you a leader. Trust is really, really hard to achieve in this world. It’s really, really challenging to achieve, especially with people with those groups that I just mentioned. People are really guarded and skeptical of people because of emails like that.
"Kindness and lifting people up and respecting people you don’t know, I just think that that’s such a big part of our thing here," he added. "Listening to people and learning about people because I think what you’ll discover is that we have so much more in common than not."
Staley said he tries to "set the example every single day so that people that were talked about in those emails that they don’t need to feel that way, they shouldn’t feel that way. Hopefully all of us can learn from this, that it’s about bringing people together for me, so that people can become the people that they dream about . . . Hopefully this will be a chance for everybody to come together instead of go apart."
Former Giants star Tunnell honored by Coast Guard
Before cornerback Emlen Tunnell became a nine-time All-Pro and two-time NFL champion with the Giants and Packers, he served with distinction in the U.S. Coast Guard. Earlier this year, the Coast Guard named a cutter after Tunnell, who saved the lives of two shipmates while in the service during and after World War II. In 1944, after a Japanese plane attacked his ship, Tunnell rescued a shipmate after he’d been engulfed by fire, beating back the flames with his hands before carrying the machinist to safety. Two years later, while stationed in Newfoundland, Tunnell jumped from the USS Tampa to save a drowning shipmate.
Tunnell went on to join the Giants in 1948, the first African-American player in team history. He became the first Black player to earn a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and in 1963 became the NFL’s first African-American assistant coach while working for the Giants.
He died of a heart attack at Giants training camp in 1975 at age 51.
Herbert’s a star
Add Justin Herbert to the growing list of prominent young quarterbacks who are showing that their offenses are in good hands.
The 2019 first-round pick has led the Chargers to a 4-1 record, their best start since going 5-1 in 2014. Making only his 20th career start last week, Herbert rallied the Chargers from a 14-point deficit in a 47-42 win over the Browns. He had five second-half touchdown drives.
Herbert already has 44 touchdown passes, passing Tony Romo (43) for the fourth-most by a quarterback in his first 20 starts. It’s not quite Patrick Mahomes territory (60), but it’s close enough to make you realize that these two AFC West stars will make this one of the best divisions going.
Top picks face off
The No. 1 choices from the 2019 and 2020 drafts will face off in a huge game in Cleveland as Baker Mayfield of the Browns goes against Kyler Murray of the Cardinals in a game with significant implications.
The 5-0 Cardinals are the NFL’s only unbeaten team. The Browns, 3-2 after a loss in San Diego, have never lost two games in a row under second-year coach Kevin Stefanski.
Murray has 1,512 passing yards and has completed 75.2% of his passes, joining Drew Brees and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to produce at least 1,500 yards and a completion percentage of at least 75.0. He has been somewhat limited in practice by a shoulder issue but is expected to be OK for the game.
The bigger news is that Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury will miss the game after testing positive for COVID-19. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers will share head-coaching duties. It remains to be seen how Kingsbury’s absence will impact Murray, but it certainly won’t help.
Mayfield hasn’t dazzled this season — he has four touchdown passes and two interceptions — but he did help ring up 42 points in a wild 47-42 loss to the Chargers. Besides, the Browns’ strength on offense is the running game, which is averaging 187.6 yards per game behind the tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. With Chubb out of Sunday’s game with a calf injury, look for Hunt to take on an increased role.
Close games continue
Parity has been the lifeblood of the NFL for decades, and this year is no exception to the "on any given Sunday" mantra. Consider: ‘
There have been 19 games in which the winning score came in the final minute of regulation or in overtime. That’s the highest total through five weeks . . . ever.
Eight overtime games ties the NFL record for the most through five weeks, and it’s only the second time in history that at least one game has gone to OT in each of the first five weeks.
And 21 games have been decided by three or fewer points, tied for third through this point of the season.
Around the league
The Bills may be the hottest team in football. Winners of four straight, Buffalo has the league’s highest-scoring offense (34.4 points per game) and top defense (12.8 points per game allowed) and has scored at least 35 points in four straight games. The Bills lead the league with a plus-108 point differential through five weeks and can become the fifth team in the Super Bowl era to score at least 200 points and allow 100 or fewer through their first six games. Three of the four teams to accomplish that feat advanced to the Super Bowl (New England in 2007, St. Louis in 1999 and Green Bay in 1996) . . . Stat to note: Teams that have won on Monday night are 4-0 in their next games. Going back to Week 14 last year, teams are 9-0 in their next games . . . No rookie quarterback has won a game in London, including Zach Wilson of the Jets, who lost to the Falcons last week, a string of five straight losses. On Sunday, No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence of Jacksonville looks to break that streak against Miami . . . Christian McCaffrey will miss his third straight game for the Panthers with a hamstring injury. Carolina, winners of three straight to start the season, has lost both games without McCaffrey . . . Aaron Rodgers has gone four straight games against the Bears without throwing an interception. Green Bay is at Chicago on Sunday . . . It has been a solid year for Colts quarterback Carson Wentz, who has seven touchdown passes and one interception . . . From the "no one is perfect" category: Patrick Mahomes has six interceptions, matching his total from the entire 2020 season and one more than he had in all of 2019.