The Giants didn’t beat the Buccaneers on Monday night. But they did have one victory.
"I think we gave the G.O.A.T. some issues there," safety Logan Ryan said.
That "greatest of all time’’ quarterback, of course, would be the Bucs’ Tom Brady. And yes, the Giants were able to befuddle and baffle a QB with 21 years of NFL experience to the point that they almost beat him, too.
Had the game been played earlier in the season, it’s unlikely that would have been the case. That’s because each week this year, the Giants’ playbooks — on defense, on offense and on special teams — have grown. A team that began the regular season confined by the limitation of variety was able, in that Week 8 game, to throw everything it had at Brady.
And it was a lot.
So how has that happened? How has a team led by a rookie head coach that had no in-person offseason programs and no preseason games managed to continually expand its repertoire in all phases of the game?
For that answer, you have to go back to the beginning.
Not of the season — of the coaching careers of people such as defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and head coach Joe Judge. It’s what they learned from all of the coaches they worked for . . . especially Bill Belichick.
"You install the core concepts," Graham said. "So install cover three. Don’t worry about whatever the call is for cover three, install the version of cover three. What’s the curl flat? What’s a hook curl? If they can understand that and the whole group can understand it, then you can have 10 calls that are still cover three, but people are in different spots. We took our time to do that. That’s what I’ve learned over my career. That’s the best way to do it, to be able to be more multiple as you push down the year. Obviously, it grows as time goes on."
It also allows the Giants to create something more valuable than a tome of calls, and that is the illusion of such diversity. With every player able to be moved to a different spot on the field because they understand concepts and not simply where that individual’s position needs to be on a certain play, the Giants can shuffle their personnel and make it look as if they have a dozen or more plays when the actual number is quite a bit less.
"I’m telling you, we’re not doing that much stuff," Graham said. "I know everybody is thinking it, but we’re not doing that much stuff. We just try to do what we can execute, and the guys are trying to do it at a high level . . . It comes from the hard work they put in in the spring and the Zoom meetings, to be honest with you. I would assume that even Dalvin [Tomlinson] could tell what the job of the curl flat is."
That same growth is taking place throughout the team. On offense, coordinator Jason Garrett has added wrinkles and creativity to his call sheet in recent weeks that he would have been unable to succinctly explain to his players earlier in the season.
"It comes with time," Garrett said. "You have to practice, you have to practice together. Unfortunately, nobody in the league this year had preseason games. That’s a great opportunity to grow and get better. But over the course of the season, the best teams are the ones that grow and get better."
It’s even visible on special teams, where coordinator Thomas McGaughey has been experimenting with plays and looks — such as last week’s decision to not have a deep punt returner and keep 11 players near the line of scrimmage to put pressure on the Buccaneers’ operation — that were untenable a month or two ago.
The defense, though, because of its moving pieces and personnel, is where this phenomenon is most easily spotted.
"We’re really multiple, we’re really versatile," Ryan said. "We’re trying to give quarterbacks a hard time. I just think we’re starting to execute [Graham's] vision a little bit better. I really like this defense. It challenges me every week to play somewhere else or learn something new."
More importantly, it challenges the opposition. Even Brady.
"I got to play Monday in the post against Tom Brady and try to play mind games with him every play I could, try to give him a hard time," Ryan said. "He told me I did, but he still won, so it wasn’t good enough. So we’ll take the improvement and try to give [Washington quarterback] Kyle Allen a hard time."
They’ll do it with newer plays, newer looks and newer permutations.
The evolution continues.