Joe Judge was at home this weekend and saw something which may be commonplace to most of us but that he hasn’t had many opportunities to witness in the past decade.
He saw Tom Brady playing football… on television.
Judge certainly had a live and up-close view of Brady in games and practices since he joined the Patriots as a special teams assistant in 2012. And this year, as head coach of the Giants, he’s gone over plenty of video of the quarterback with his new team, the Buccaneers. But on Sunday afternoon, when Brady was slinging five touchdown passes against the Raiders and the Giants were enjoying a few days off after their Thursday night contest, Judge was able to simply kick back for a few minutes and watch.
Or maybe gawk.
His takeaway from the experience wasn’t very different than anyone else’s.
"This guy hasn’t had much dropoff," Judge said of Brady, still ripping off passes in his 21st NFL season. "He’s playing at a very high level. He has the guys around him playing at a high level as well."
Those relaxing glimpses at greatness were enjoyed, but now they are gone. Judge and the Giants now see Brady not as the greatest quarterback in NFL history, but as their next opponent. They will face the Buccaneers on Monday night, looking to pull off an upset that, given their point differentials so far of +80 (the best in the NFL) and -52 (the fourth-lowest), might be the biggest the Giants have ever had against Brady.
Given their intertwined Super Bowl histories, that’s saying a lot.
But the Giants do have an advantage that not many teams enjoy. They have someone in charge who knows Brady well. Judge wasn’t just a special teams coach for the Patriots during his tenure there, he was also the wide receivers coach and worked closely with Brady.
When you have been around as long as Brady, and had as much success as he has had, you are bound to play against coaches who know you well. When he faces Judge, it will be the 20th time in his career Brady faces a head coach who was either a Patriots assistant or teammate during his time in New England. He has an 11-8 record in those previous meetings, but almost half of those wins – five against Eric Mangini’s Jets and Browns teams – took place before 2011. In more recent years Brady is 0-1 against Matt Patricia, 1-1 against Brian Flores and 0-2 with a playoff loss against Mike Vrabel.
Perhaps there is some kryptonite that can be conjured by Judge.
Judge isn’t the only Giant who knows Brady well. Dion Lewis, Logan Ryan and Nate Ebner are all current Giants players who won rings with him in New England, and the coaching staff is littered with former Patriots assistants who are well aware of Brady’s prowess despite his new pewter helmet.
Said Ebner, with a chuckle: "It’s Tom Brady at the end of the day."
"One thing about Tom is he’s a very intelligent player," Judge said. "He thinks ahead of the play, he’s always looking for answers, he’s very proactive in how he sees the game, he understands the personnel on the other side extremely well. He’s been in all of the situations, however you slice it up, as many times as you can possibly imagine, whether that’s through practice or games. This guy is fluent in football."
Judge said while Brady excels in games, it’s the behind-the-scenes lessons that he drew from the quarterback who is four years his elder. He recalled times during training camp when Brady, not the coaches, would run and analyze one-on-one drills between receivers and defensive backs .
"You would let Tom go in there and talk to the receivers about what he’s seeing and what he expects on a certain route," Judge said. "To me, that made you a much better coach by listening to how the quarterback sees it and what he expects on each route. There’s fine points in coaching but ultimately it matters how the players see it on the field. To be able to hear through the vision that Tom had, that was really an education in itself right there."
And of course, there is Brady’s edginess.
"I think the thing you have to always keep in mind with Tom is he’s as tough and fierce a competitor as there has ever been in any organized sport," Judge said. "He set the tone for an entire organization. I’m very grateful for my time being around him."
Now, though, Judge and the Giants must prepare for him.
They aren’t facing Brady’s Hall of Fame resume so much as his current incarnation that is second in the NFL in touchdown passes (18) and sixth in passing yards (1,910) and only now getting comfortable with his new surroundings. In the last two games, since his infamous loss to the Bears when he appeared to lose track of the downs, Brady has completed 50 of 72 passes for six touchdowns with no interceptions.
"This guy is clearly one of the best to ever play the game," Judge said.
He would know. He saw it during his time with the Patriots. He saw it on television on Sunday. And on Monday, he’ll get to see it from a whole new vantage point once again.
He’ll be going against it.
THOSE WHO KNOW TOM BEST
Here is a look at Tom Brady’s career record against head coaches who were either former assistants on Patriots teams for which he played or, in the case of Mike Vrabel, a former teammate in New England:
Romeo Crennel Browns 1-0
Josh McDaniels Broncos 0-1
Eric Mangini Jets/Browns 5-2*
Bill O’Brien Texans 4-1
Matt Patricia Lions 0-1
Brian Flores Dolphins 1-1
Mike Vrabel Titans 0-2**
*Includes a postseason win
**Includes a postseason loss