New York Giants head coach Joe Judge during the first...

New York Giants head coach Joe Judge during the first half against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

Joe Judge says he needs a win.

He didn’t use those exact words. Nor would he ever likely admit to such desperation. But every sentence he uttered at his news conference on Wednesday screamed it. He was asked to defend everything from the way he practices and works the team to the in-game decisions being made to the assistants he has calling the plays — basically the gamut of head coach responsibilities — and for the first time in his tenure seemed to be doing so from his heels.

Gone was the bravado and easy self-assuredness he punctuated last season with when he railed against the Eagles and their decision to play backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld in a critical Week 17 second half that torpedoed the Giants’ slim playoff hopes. It was replaced by a cheat sheet that Judge brought with him to the lectern on Wednesday, the one on which he had jotted down some talking points and statistical comparisons regarding the team’s injury rate in anticipation of being grilled on the subject and kept glancing at during his answers.

"Trust me," he said at one point Wednesday, "I don’t live in a world of fear."

When they say it’s not about the money, you can be sure it’s about the money. When they say they are thinking about retirement, they usually retire. So when Judge says he doesn’t live in a world of fear — says it twice in fact — it comes off not as an expression of boldness and audacity but a concession that these are, indeed, scary times for the franchise.

Playing so poorly that you got the co-owner booed during one of the most joyous moments in MetLife Stadium history on Sunday and then angering him (or someone in his entourage) to the point that garbage cans were slammed outside his box as the game-losing field goal went through the uprights should only add to any trepidations.

Starting the season 0-3 has taken its toll on everyone in the organization. Last year, Judge’s first, was almost expected to get off to a rocky start. New schemes on both sides of the ball, a massive roster turnover, and an unorthodox offseason and training camp because of the raging pandemic created obstacles that were almost impossible for the Giants to overcome.

This year has brought something even more difficult to deal with, though. Expectations. And they are not close to being met, even if the past two games have been decided by a total of three points with each loss determined as time expired.

So what was it that Judge actually said on Wednesday?

His decisions to punt — on fourth-and-3 from the Atlanta 39 on the opening drive of the third quarter in particular — prompted the "world of fear" line about playing too conservatively and he added that he takes each instance on its own merits amid the flow of the game. As for the role analytics plays in such calls he said: "You can look at a stat sheet all you want, but I promise you if Excel was going to win football games, Bill Gates would be killing it right now."

On how much tolerance he has to stick with Jason Garrett as offensive coordinator and play-caller, Judge said: "When I know the right things are being taught, that we’re playing with good fundamentals, that we’re putting our players in a position to be successful, then I don’t see a reason to change up our coaching, but there are things that tie into it and we have to make sure we’re on the same page all the time."

And on the topic of pushing the players too hard in practice and a possible correlation to the hamstring injuries suffered by Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton he cited the numbers that were on the piece of paper he brought with him: Soft-tissue injuries for the Giants were down in 2020 and the lowest in the organization in three seasons; hamstring injuries last year were about half the league average; and the Giants had the second-fewest missed practices in the NFL last year along with the third-fewest missed games.

"Translation: Our guys are healthy enough to return after missing some time," he said. "The emphasis on our program starts with player health all the time. That’s it, point blank . . . This is not an experimental program. This is a time-tested program that’s worked that I’ve been a part of on multiple levels, whether it was at the collegiate level or the professional level. I’ve been a part of this with great success."

At one point Judge noted that the team was worked a little less than usual last week leading up to the Falcons game.

"Actually," he said, "the only thing I did differently with conditioning last week was I didn’t condition them on Thursday, so maybe that was a mistake."

Asked a bit later on why he thought that way he smirked.

"I’m just being a wiseass," he said.

It was a rare sign that that Joe Judge, the one who seemed so in control of the entire organization just weeks ago, is still in there somewhere. He just needs some wins to be coaxed back out in full.

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