One of Joe Judge’s least favorite words in football is "starter." He’s spent this season fighting against the notion that just because someone is on the field for the first snap of a game, it somehow makes him more significant to the team.
"I may be screwed up, but I don’t really look at any of our players as starters or backups. I look at them as players for our team," he said recently.
At another point this year, he said the label of starter was "not critical" to him or his team.
"It’s more about who’s finishing the game for us," he said.
That distinction might carry more magnitude on Sunday against the Ravens than in any other Giants game this season, especially as applied to the most important position on the team.
Daniel Jones was officially listed as questionable on the Friday injury report, but he remains, as Judge said Thursday, "on the right track" to return to the field for this contest. The second-year quarterback was limited in practices all week, but Judge said Jones was back to his "normal role" and that he was "encouraged" by what he saw.
All signs continue to point toward Jones starting this key game.
But can he finish it?
It’s been almost a month and a half since he has finished one. The last time Jones walked off the field after playing the entire game was the Nov. 15 win over the Eagles.
After that, the Giants had a bye, then played the Bengals, the game in which Jones injured his right hamstring and had to come out in the third quarter. He missed the next game against the Seahawks, then returned for a disappointing performance against the Cardinals in which he showed limited mobility and suffered a left ankle injury that knocked him out in the fourth quarter.
Last week, he did not play against the Browns.
Colt McCoy has started just two games in place of Jones, but he has finished the last four in his stead.
Assuming Jones starts on Sunday, his mobility is still a question. Against the Cardinals, he was virtually unable to maneuver in the pocket and was no threat as a ballcarrier. He was sacked four times and it was the first time in his career that he did not have a rushing attempt. If he is at the same physical level Sunday as he was two weeks ago, it’s hard to imagine the Giants being competitive against the Ravens.
One of the reasons for so much optimism about Jones progressing as well as he has this week, Judge said, was that the team limited Jones last week in practices and did not play him against the Browns. Jones had been pushing to play in that game but was overruled by the coaching and medical staffs.
"Some of the decisions we made last week were kind of hard for him to sit out with the double injuries, but I think that helped resolve some of those issues," Judge said. "All the feedback we have gotten medically is he has continued to improve and he is at lesser risk of being injured, and that’s really the things we’re looking for with positive news."
With two games remaining and the Giants trailing NFC East-leading Washington by one game, Sunday could be an elimination game for them. If they lose and either Washington or Philadelphia wins, they’re out.
It’s one of the reasons why it is so important for Jones, the team’s leader, to attempt to rally the Giants from their recent two-game losing streak by playing the entire game.
"It has 100% shown his toughness to us," wide receiver Darius Slayton said of Jones’ injuries. "We know he’s fighting his hardest to get back out there. He’s fighting his hardest to play. At the end of the day, when you go out there on game day, you’re trying to be as effective as possible. It’s been unfortunate that he’s been banged up over these last couple of weeks. If they put him out there on Sunday, I look forward to playing with him."
Not just for the first snaps of the game but the last ones as well.
Notes & quotes: Wide receiver Golden Tate was ruled out for Sunday’s game after suffering a calf injury in Wednesday’s practice. Though he has two years remaining on his four-year contract, he might have played his final game for the Giants . . . Linebacker Blake Martinez (ankle) was a late-week addition to the injury report and is listed as questionable. Martinez has played almost every defensive snap this season for the Giants and leads the team with 128 tackles . . . Rookie cornerback Darnay Holmes, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury, also is questionable.