Joe Judge slammed his headset in frustration during one of the more unfortunate episodes in Sunday’s 37-34 loss to the Cowboys, the first public tantrum he has thrown on the sideline in what has been a soul-wringing first month and a half with the team.
After the game, though, he was right back to his steady, measured talking points.
"All that really matters to us, to be honest with you, is the progress we are making right now," the still-winless head coach of the Giants said after watching the Cowboys kick the winning 34-yard field goal as time expired. "The record will come in time."
Even the most respected and bought-in players on the team aren’t buying that line any longer, though.
A game like Sunday’s, in which they led 17-3 in the first half and 34-31 midway through the fourth, in which Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott left in the third quarter with an ugly ankle injury, in which the Giants’ sins — including a fumble by Daniel Jones that was returned for a Cowboys touchdown and two touchdowns negated by Giants penalties — loomed as large as any inabilities they showed on offense or defense in the final two minutes, well, that’ll sting.
"This one hurts," safety Logan Ryan said, referring to himself as "sick" over the loss (not to mention his clean tackle of Prescott that led to the injury).
Some of the Giants’ previous losses inspired a sense of forward leaning from a young team that seemed to be outclassed in some personnel areas. This one did not fall into that category.
Against a Cowboys team without three starting offensive linemen and, for a crucial stretch, their starting quarterback, the Giants had an opportunity to win.
They did not.
"We’re not getting any more ‘atta boys,’ " Ryan said. "No more pats on the back for close losses. That time is done. The fan base deserves wins, and we’re going to do what we have to do to get wins for the fans, for ourselves. We deserve it too. Coach Judge deserves it."
Well, maybe not on Sunday.
With the score tied at 34, the Giants had the ball with 1:56 left. Jones hit Darius Slayton for a 14-yard gain, but after two passes to Dion Lewis that totaled 1 yard, the Giants faced third-and-9 from their own 39. Jones scrambled to his right and tried to throw across his body to Lewis, but the pass sailed behind the running back and the Giants had to punt.
"We moved the ball all game and had been able to execute on offense," Jones said. "We were confident. I was confident. We have to do a better job."
That set the Cowboys up at their 14 with 52 seconds left and backup quarterback Andy Dalton in the game. After an incompletion on his first pass, Dalton hit three straight — one to Amari Cooper for 15 and a big first down after a missed tackle by Blake Martinez, then back-to-back passes to Michael Gallup for 19 and 38 yards that were so close to the sideline that both needed to be reviewed. The last one brought the Cowboys to the 16 with three seconds left.
Greg Zuerlein’s 34-yard field goal as time expired slipped just inside the right upright to propel the Cowboys to not only a remarkable win but an unexpected status as the first-place team in the NFC East at 2-3. The Giants are 0-5.
"There is enough of this ‘Oh, we were so close, we’re doing better, we’re getting there,’ " Martinez said. "It’s time to win. It’s a result business. We need to go out there and get the job done. It’s time for that now."
The Giants appeared to take a 24-17 lead on a fake field goal when holder Riley Dixon threw an apparent 27-yard touchdown pass to Evan Engram. The score was negated by an illegal shift call against Cam Fleming (with Judge’s poor headset taking the brunt of his disapproval). The Giants had to settle for a 50-yard field goal to go ahead 20-17, and the Cowboys marched down the field to take a 24-20 lead on a touchdown pass from Cedrick Wilson to Prescott with 16 seconds left.
Graham Gano brought the Giants within a point with a 54-yard field goal, becoming the first Giants kicker to hit three of more than 50 yards in the Super Bowl era, but only after a second Giants touchdown was negated by a penalty. This time a 31-yard pass from Jones to Slayton was wiped away by an offensive pass interference call against Damion Ridley.
The Cowboys finished their next drive with a 12-yard touchdown run by Ezekiel Elliott to go up 31-23. After Gano made it 31-26 late in the fourth, Dalton fumbled a snap and Martinez recovered it at the Dallas 17. Five plays later, Devonta Freeman wiggled into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown, his first as a Giant, to put the Giants ahead 32-31 with 8:46 left. Jones threw to tackle Andrew Thomas for a two-point conversion and a 34-31 lead.
Zuerlein’s 40-yarder with 1:56 left tied the score and set up the final back-and-forth that sealed the Giants’ fate.
Despite the dreadful start to the season, the Giants are not out of the running. They trail the Cowboys by two games in the standings, but with no team over .500 — just the second time all teams in a single division have a losing record through five weeks since the NFL merger — the NFC East title is far from beyond the Giants’ reach.
At some point, though, they’ll have to win a game to stay in contention.
"We don’t feel like we’re out of the division at all," Jones said. "We have a couple of big division games coming up [against Washington and Philadelphia], and all we can do is prepare as hard as we can and be ready for those games."
Now that’s more in line with Judge’s approved script.
Asked what the mood was like in the postgame locker room, Judge essentially said: It was what I told them it should be.
"Obviously, they’re disappointed about any game we don’t win, but one thing I know about our team is it’s a resilient group and a hard-working bunch," Judge said. "All of our focus, win or loss, shifts to our next opponent on Monday anyway."
Even Ryan and Martinez and all of those who expressed frustration and anger — both publicly and in the privacy of the locker room on Sunday — agreed with that.