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In the season of COVID-19, Giants relish bye week more than ever

Giants special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey on the

Giants special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey on the sidelines during the preseason opener against the Browns at MetLife Stadium on Aug. 9, 2018. Credit: Daniel De Mato

In a season when nothing seems normal, even the time off is affected.

The Giants will get a taste of that this coming week as they have their bye following Sunday’s game against the Eagles. It’s normally a time for players to step away from the game, recharge their batteries and reconnect with family.

This year, though, it will mean sticking around and continuing to undergo daily COVID-19 tests at the facility.

It’s not quite a vacation when you have to report to work each day – even if it is for just a few minutes of nasal swabbing – but the Giants will try to make the best of it. In fact, in a departure from Joe Judge’s one-week-at-a-time mandate, he has already had individual discussions with some players about bringing their families to New Jersey since the players are tethered to the area. That includes some protocols for those traveling from other parts of the country.

"We just want to make sure that everyone has what they need on the front end," Judge said. "Maybe get their families up here a little bit early, the opportunity to get them tested to make sure everyone is in kind of that same situation of knowing where we’ve been. That being said, I think it just comes down to we all have to be very conscious of what we do in those few days off, and make the right decisions on where we go and who we’re around. That’s easier said than done."

Navigating a season during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for everyone, not just the players and coaches. Special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey opened up earlier this week about his family that lives in Houston. After the Giants played the Eagles on a Thursday night last month and had a weekend off, McGaughey dashed from New Jersey to Houston and back inside 24 hours just to watch his son play a football game.

Unfortunately for him it didn’t quite work out as planned.

"I get a text when I drive into the parking lot [of the stadium], ‘Trent’s hurt,’" he said. "I’m coming into the stadium up to the bleachers and I see him with this big wrap on his hand. As soon as he looked at me, I looked at him, and he broke out crying. I knew something was wrong."

His son dislocated a bone in his hand that required surgery the next morning. McGaughey, though, had to leave because he was due back in New Jersey for his daily COVID-19 test.

"That’s kind of been our situation as a family," McGaughey said. "Just to give you a little insight, it’s never easy as coach when you’re away from your family and trying to do what’s best for your family . . . we’d like to spend time with our families, but obviously we have to pay the bills and we have to do the things we have to do to get things done."

The bye week is usually a respite from that grind.

"You have players who haven’t seen their wives or kids for some time now, whereas if it was a normal year, they might fly up for the game weekend, see the game," Judge said. "Obviously, that’s not the case. In a normal year with a normal bye week, they would go home, see some family, kind of get a mental reset before coming back up. That’s not the case, either. We have to do the best job we can for the players of letting them have some mental downtime on the backend of next week. We have to let them refresh. We’ve been pushing these guys hard for some time… We have to let these guys have a little bit of time."

So the Giants will get that, even if it is not in a traditional sense. The players will be off from Thursday through Sunday and report back next Monday to begin preparing for the final six games of the season and the Nov. 29 game against the Bengals.

"You get four straight days as a coach or a player, you come back and everyone is a little bit rusty to be honest with you," Judge said. "It’s amazing how fast you can forget basic things when you can go ahead and shut your mind off for a minute. But we have to give them the opportunity to kind of mentally reset, and hopefully they do have the opportunities to see family or see friends. We just want to make sure they do it safely by knowing where everyone’s been and making sure everybody has been tested if that’s an opportunity."

The last time the Giants had some time off – following that Thursday game against the Eagles -- there were obvious gaps in the team’s largely successful dedication to COVID prevention. Video surfaced of players such as Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley and Sterling Shepard out in public in Manhattan without masks and without proper social distancing. A few days after they returned, guard Will Hernandez tested positive.

Judge will undoubtedly remind his players that time away from football is not time away from the pandemic.

"Look, I can tell you personally from my standpoint, I have a ninth grader who’s in high school," Judge said. "He’s going to high school right now with kids from all over New York, New Jersey, some parts of Pennsylvania, going to his high school. It’s a deal right there where I have to remind him on a daily basis, ‘Hey look, dude, you have to make sure you wear your mask.’ There have been a lot of weekends where I haven’t been able to let him just go out and hang out at parties because, to be honest with you, we have to be conscious that if I let him do that, what am I bringing back into my house? What may I bring back to the team? There are tough effects it has on everyone’s individual families, a lot of sacrifices people are making that go very unnoticed. Our players’ families are making a tremendous sacrifice as well."

Those precautions will have to continue through the bye. But it doesn’t mean the Giants won’t be able to take that all important step away from their daily preparations for a much-needed mental break. They’ll have four days without meetings, practices, film work or game-planning.

After going almost non-stop since July under the most trying of conditions any football season in memory has seen, they’ve earned it.

Said Judge: "Four days in a season now seems like a month, I’ll tell you right now."

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