Nobody was throwing Golden Tate the damn ball on Wednesday.
The veteran wide receiver, whose gripes about his lack of targets in the Giants’ offense have become more and more overt and whose wife posted a direct complaint about that situation on social media in recent days, was not with the team for Wednesday’s meetings or during the walk-through practice in the afternoon.
Coach Joe Judge said he and Tate spoke "at length" about the situation in person on Wednesday morning but would not say whether Tate’s absence the rest of the day was a form of discipline or a decision by the player to leave the facility. All of that, Judge said, would be handled internally.
"He will be back in the building and practicing with us the remainder of the week," Judge said. "It will be business as usual."
Judge’s comments did suggest that it was his preference that Tate be given, for lack of a better phrase, a timeout.
"It has to be team-first for everyone in this building, every coach, every player," Judge said. "It has to be team-first. There are no exceptions to that. I am not going to tolerate putting up with any kind of selfish behavior from anybody, coach or player. It’s not going to happen . . . It’s my job to make sure we can handle things internally, that we have a family structure in this building and everyone understands there are consequences for their actions."
In this case, Tate’s actions certainly rose to a level Judge could not tolerate. After he caught a pass in Monday night’s game against the Bucs, he got to his feet and shouted at the Giants’ sideline "Throw me the damn ball!" a comment that was audible on the ESPN broadcast. After his touchdown late in the game he seemed to seek out the television cameras and repeat that mantra: "Throw me the ball!"
There were also several times during the game when Tate had his arm raised to indicate he was open on a route and appeared to be showing up quarterback Daniel Jones by keeping it raised after the ball went elsewhere.
One of those times was dissected by Judge on the team’s weekly web segment that breaks down several plays each game. It was a pass to tight end Evan Engram in the flat with Tate open in the end zone. Judge made it clear that Jones’ read on that play was from front to back, and that Jones made the proper play getting the ball to the tight end.
"I didn’t notice a lot of that during the game," Judge said. "I was locked in. There are a lot of things that happen during the game that come out afterwards for all of the players at all positions."
Jones said he and Tate "communicated" about the situation.
"I have a ton of respect for Golden," Jones said. "He’s a close friend and a close teammate. He’s made a lot of plays over these last couple of years. I certainly have a lot of trust in him as a player . . . He’s a great player and we’ll keep trying to get him the ball."
Added Jones: "We’re looking forward to getting him back."
Tate has caught touchdown passes in each of the past two games but has been targeted just six times in the past three. He has caught 22 passes (the same number as Sterling Shepard, who missed 4 1/2 games with a turf toe injury) for 226 yards on 29 targets. Only Engram and Darius Slayton have had the ball come their way more often this season.
This was a situation that was almost bound to eventually blow up for the Giants from the beginning. The combination of Judge’s discipline and team-first philosophies to establish a foundation for winning in the future mixed with a veteran who sees time running out on his chances to play for a title contender can be explosive. It’s something that has been discussed by and around the Giants since training camp.
Even co-owner John Mara was asked about the potential for player unrest given Judge’s demands at the start of the season, and he dismissed them then.
"It’s a fairly young team, so a lot of those guys don’t know any better," Mara said of the players. "They went through tough programs in college and I don’t think this is any great shock to their systems."
For a 32-year-old receiver who thinks he isn’t getting enough opportunities in the offense on a one-win team, though, it’s a very different story.
Judge did what he could to deflect pressure from the player and the team.
"When it comes to discipline, I don’t believe in holding trial on any one of my players — or coaches for that matter — in the public eye," he said. "I choose to deal with things internally because as the head coach it is my job to protect the team . . . I’m not going to put my players on blast publicly."
Behind closed doors, though, is a different matter.
"I will criticize them very openly and bluntly in squad meetings," he said. "I am going to hold everybody accountable. That starts with myself. I’m the first one to tell everybody when I screw up because I demand every player look in the mirror and have the same criticism of themselves. But we’re never going to look at each other and say that wasn’t your fault. Sometimes it is your fault. And sometimes it’s my fault. We’re going to be very open and honest with each other."
As for Judge’s assertion that the Giants and Tate will be "business as usual" on Thursday, well, a lot of that depends on Tate and how long he wants to prolong this episode. In Judge’s mind, it will be over.
Said Judge: "We’ve got to correct what happens and move forward without it being a distraction that pulls us back throughout the year with external factors affecting our guys internally."
If they can’t, it may be the biggest Giants loss of the year in this season of foundation-building.