MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.
Joe Judge was tossing a word salad of encouragement late Sunday afternoon, some of which perhaps made sense in the specifics but none of which sounded right in the aggregate.
The Giants’ coach was talking about the many things he liked from his team in a 20-9 loss to the Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium, even from his anemic, touchdown-challenged offense.
It was . . . well, it was a little strange.
"Encouraged by some of the things we’re seeing out there," he said.
Look, let’s not be too hard on him for that. It’s fine for the guy not to publicly rip his players. He needs them to get him through five more games and into 2022 and (he hopes) beyond.
But the rest of us do not have to get aboard the happy train as another season falls off a cliff.
Remember a mere three months ago, when the conventional wisdom regarding Judge’s second season was that after the quirky, NFC Least division race of 2020, it was time for the Giants to contend in a real one?
It was not exactly playoffs-or-bust for Judge and quarterback Daniel Jones — even if it might have been for general manager Dave Gettleman — but legitimate playoff contention was the minimum expectation.
Here we are, 12 games later, and the Giants are 4-8, four games behind the first-place Cowboys and only technically on the fringes of the bigger-than-it-used-to-be playoff field.
They presumably will have to run the table to sneak into the postseason, and they might be starting the journey next weekend against the Chargers with Jake Fromm at quarterback.
Meanwhile, in Miami, Brian Flores’ Dolphins have followed a seven-game losing streak with a five-game winning streak and seem to be pointing in the direction the Giants are supposed to be traveling.
There were a few bright spots on Sunday, to be fair to Judge, with backup quarterback Mike Glennon completing several third-and-long passes early in the game.
But there were no touchdowns and only 250 net yards, part of a disturbing stretch of sub-300-yard totals.
Receiver Kenny Golladay, who had three receptions for 37 yards, was asked if he is tired of the ineptitude on offense. "I mean, it’s frustrating," he said.
Saquon Barkley again was unable to do enough to help, rushing 11 times for 55 yards, catching six passes for 19, dropping two passes and generally being flummoxed by Miami’s highly rated rush defense.
"Nine points is not acceptable," Barkley said. "We have to be better. We have to capitalize on opportunities. We have to be better, starting with myself."
It is not clear where Judge goes from here, which presumably was one reason he tried to be positive.
He already has fired an offensive coordinator, Jason Garrett, which has not seemed to help. His quarterback situation is a muddle. His superstar back no longer seems like a superstar back.
All he can do between now and Jan. 9 is plug holes and hope for a football miracle. Perhaps the team’s bonding trip to Tucson this week will create some sort of spark.
Maybe players will read the transcript of Judge’s remarks to reporters and decide they are not so bad at football after all.
As Judge said before taking questions: "There were a lot of things that I saw today in the way we played, a lot of things that are moving in the right direction, a lot of things I’m very pleased with in terms of how we competed.
"And we were able to make some stops at critical moments, able to make some good decisions. A lot of guys stepped up in different situations.
"But ultimately, we’ve got to make more plays, got to take advantage of the opportunities in front of us and got to make sure that we capitalize on opportunities when we have a chance to make big-time swings in the game. I’m pleased with a lot of the things on the team."
There was more where that came from, stuff that would have sounded normal and appropriate after losses early in Judge’s rookie season in 2020.
Twelve games into 2021? Not so much.