The Giants are not in the playoffs, but Joe Judge is making sure they are into the playoffs.
Before they departed at the conclusion of the regular season last week, the head coach gave his players one final assignment. It wasn’t anything grueling or something the union might have to step in to stop. It was actually something most of them were going to do anyway.
He wanted them to watch football.
"I talked to our players before we left, I said: ‘When you watch these games, sit back, relax, allow yourself to just watch and enjoy the games,’ " Judge said in an appearance on WFAN on Tuesday morning. "'But also watch the game from the lens through which you have learned to see it. Look at the situations, look at the things that really impact the game: turnovers, penalties, mental errors. Take a look at something someone could have done differently and how we would have handled it and really try to look through that lens.’"
That’s something Judge and the coaches do, too. Judge said he sat and watched all six of the wild card games this past weekend with his sons, but while he was mostly in dad world he still was partly in coach mode.
"When I watch it, I sit down and watch it and make a mental note or sometimes jot something down in a notebook that I want to come back to," he said. "There is a lot of texting going back and forth, to be honest, between me and other members of our staff in terms of: Did you see that situation? What would we look to do differently? How would we handle that? Or maybe there is something we should implement into what we’re doing."
Judge admitted it can be "frustrating" to be a spectator for the playoffs. This is, in fact, the first time since very early in his coaching career that he has not participated in a postseason game of some sort, whether it was a bowl game with Alabama or the NFL playoffs with the Patriots.
Watching and playing, he said, he comes away with the same conclusion.
"When you get to playoff football, it all comes down to execution," he said. "Obviously the intensity is up, but it’s always a couple of plays. Very rarely is it a blowout, right? It’s always a couple plays here or there and how did you handle them? It’s a fumble here, an interception there, it’s a costly penalty that kills a drive. It’s a mental error where someone misses a blitz pickup and the quarterback gets strip-sacked. There is always something that ties to it."
Judge also discussed a number of other topics during his 20-minute interview on WFAN.
A year ago, Judge wouldn’t even say Daniel Jones’ name, and Judge recalled how people were "busting my chops" over that insistence. "When I took this job, I didn’t want to put any titles on players to create expectations," he said. "I wanted them to learn the systems and grow within what they were doing. But, I told Daniel that I had to evaluate him and see if he was the answer, a guy we could build with." The conclusion he reached was yes, as he voiced toward the end of the 2020 season. "You could see there were traits the team responded to and his play was raised. Stats are what they are, but when you see a guy command the huddle, change within game plans, the way they prepare, that says a lot. In a lot of ways, we could say this guy gives us confidence to go forward, maybe in things that go unnoticed by the naked eye, that give our team a chance to be successful."
Judge did not back away from the comments he made last week regarding — but once again without directly naming — how the Eagles handled the end of their Week 17 game against Washington.
"I spent about the previous 20 minutes of that interview explaining that we had 16 opportunities and we didn’t take advantage of them," Judge said of last Monday’s news conference. "Our fate should never be in anyone else’s hands. We’re not upset with someone else for our limited opportunities. They’re our opportunities and we have to take advantage of them. I can’t be more clear about that."
But he reiterated the philosophy he shared last week that runs counter to the one seemingly employed by the Eagles. "My comments were what I have been saying to our team since Day 1 about our approach and how we are going to play the game here," he said. "To me it’s important to respect the game. It’s important to respect the players that lay it on the line for you every day. That, to me, is critical . . . The base respect for the game is what I was trying to get across."
Asked if he thought the Eagles disrespected the game, he said: "I’m going to let the Eagles speak for themselves on that one right there. I’ve been clear on this point . . . I was pretty thorough in the way I explained everything."
The Eagles did wind up parting ways with coach Doug Pederson on Monday. Judge wouldn’t comment on whether Pederson deserved to be fired or if he should be a head coach again, but said: "I have a tremendous amount of respect for Doug . . . a lot of respect for him and what he’s accomplished in this league."
On his own staff, Judge said he was thrilled the Giants were able to keep defensive coordinator Patrick Graham with an extension after he was a candidate for head coach openings. But Judge seemed more excited that he was able to keep Graham in the other title he holds with the organization, assistant head coach. "That was huge," Judge said. "He’s a tremendous help to me. He carries that title of assistant head coach and that’s not just fluff on a sheet [of paper]. He does a lot of things helping me internally. We’re at the building together, he’s the only other coach in here right now, and we’ve already started floating through some sheets of free agents and certainly poking around some of the draft stuff."
There was one game Judge said he did not watch fully in the past few days. He admitted that as Alabama extended its lead in the second half of Monday’s national championship game over Ohio State that he fell asleep. "I woke up to a lot of ‘Roll Tide’ texts," he said. He also said he reached out to his former boss, Nick Saban, to congratulate him on Tuesday morning and set up a meeting in the spring to talk about, among other things, some Alabama players who will be turning pro.
"There were a lot of good players on that field for both teams last night," Judge said.