Joe Judge has come this far without going into depth about playoff implications or scenarios in the standings with his team. He’s not about to start doing it now.
So even though this is Week 17 and the Giants are one of three teams that remain in contention for the NFC East title, and the possibility of hosting a postseason game is all anyone else seems to want to talk about, he’s not going to us it as a motivational tool or incentive for the team.
There are two reasons for that. The first is that he firmly believes the only important outcome on Sunday is that the Giants play their best game of the year. That’s been the yardstick he has used all season to measure the team’s growth, pushing them to improve each day.
The second reason? Because they already know what’s at stake.
"It’s human nature and they’re very conscious of what is going on around the league," Judge said on Monday. "It would be naïve or ignorant to pretend that they are not paying attention."
They were doing just that when they were on the train coming back from Sunday’s 27-13 loss to Baltimore, going about their normal postgame business of reviewing film and nursing injuries while also keeping tabs on the other games in the division. Judge and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham had the games streaming in their car. Players, in other cars, were either watching on apps or just keeping track of scores.
The Giants left Baltimore on the verge of elimination. By the time they got back to their facility in New Jersey they had been granted a reprieve. Philadelphia and Washington both lost, setting up Sunday’s dramatic conclusion to the NFC East "race."
The Giants’ path to the NFC East crown is, to borrow a Joe Judge-ism, simple but not easy. They have to beat the Cowboys on Sunday afternoon and have Philadelphia beat Washington on Sunday night. If that happens there will be a three-way tie with the Giants, Dallas and Washington all sporting 6-10 records. The Giants would win the tie-breaker based on their 3-1 record against the other teams in the tie.
If the Giants lose, they’re out. If they win and Washington wins, they’re out.
But there were no high-fives or celebrations when those scores rolled in on Sunday night. The Giants were so spread out on the train because of COVID-19 protocols that they weren’t really able to react in unison. They were also well aware of the opportunity that they had missed out on that day and during their three-game losing streak. A win in any one of those contests would have completely changed their chances of making the playoffs.
"It was a good feeling even though we would rather have won the game and given ourselves a better opportunity," center Nick Gates said of the team’s mood at the conclusion of its commute.
Judge did do something a little unorthodox given the circumstances. When the team arrived home Sunday night he held a team meeting in the field house. It was there that he briefly broached the subject of the playoffs.
"When we got back I grabbed the team and let them know what the situation is," he said, "but really it was to reaffirm the importance of staying focused on Dallas. That’s all we can control."
If they can do that and win on Sunday, they’ll be able to spend that night doing almost exactly what they were doing this past Sunday night.