Joe Judge says he has purposely been hard on Daniel Jones as the head coach and quarterback get to know each other and work together for the first time. It has been an exceedingly hard season for the Giants, in many ways, and Jones is not the only individual in the program who is under Judge’s intense scrutiny.
All season, it felt as if Judge were giving tests and setting traps. For his players. For the assistants on his staff. All season, it felt as if Judge had one eye directly on what was in front of him and another eye on the long game. Of course he wants to make the playoffs in his first year. More than almost anyone you will meet in the business, though, Judge refuses to acknowledge aloud that this is a priority.
“Anything that may or may not come after that doesn’t even exist yet,’’ he said. “Wasting mental energy and focus on something that doesn’t exist, to me, is just wasted time.’’
The man is consistent. Three weeks ago, the Giants were in control of the NFC East, having upset the Seahawks in Seattle, with backup Colt McCoy subbing for the injured Jones. The Giants, winners of four straight games, were alone in first place, in control of their playoff destiny with four games to go.
It turned out to be far too long of a sprint for the Giants to maintain their slim lead. They lost the last two games by a combined 46-13. They have been bounced from first place and will be eliminated from playoff contention if they get beat Sunday by the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium and if Washington (6-8) beats the Panthers, or if Washington loses and the Eagles (4-9-1) beat the Cowboys. If the Giants (5-9) win, they cannot be eliminated this weekend and are assured of going into Week 17 with something to play for in the New Year, as they swept the two-game season series from Washington and as a result own the tiebreaker.
The Ravens are 9-5 and need help to make it into the postseason in the AFC. It is, as they say, what it is.
Jones, after missing two of the past three games with a strained right hamstring and then a sprained left ankle, returns not a moment too soon. He was terrible his last time out, an immobile mess in a 26-6 loss to the Cardinals.
Judge said he did not make anything easy on Jones because he wanted to see what he had in his 23-year-old quarterback. Jones was not alone in this trial.
“We try to make everything challenging on all of our players,’’ Judge said. “Without going too into detail internally, look, this was something I had to see from all the players this year. Who they really are, how they are as players, how they respond to hard coaching, how they perform under pressure, how they handle situations inside and outside the building. Are they a guy who can block out external factors and come in every day and focus?
“Look, we created a situation with Daniel. I wanted to see how he performed at practice, within games, how he responded to things. He’s earned my respect all the way.
“It’s a tough league, it’s a competitive league. Everyone is trying to go ahead and take you out every week. It can’t be a country club when you walk in here to work.’’
No one will ever associate Joe Judge with running a country club. Just because talk of the playoffs has never filled their airspace does not mean the Giants are uninterested in extending their season. What once (at 0-5 and 1-7) seemed ridiculous is now unlikely to happen. Until it is a done deal, though, the Giants might as well carry on.
“Of course,’’ safety Logan Ryan, who was rewarded for an impactful first season with the Giants with a three-year contract extension, said. “I mean, what else do we have left, right? There’s not much left in this season and you’ve got to make the most of your opportunity. I think guys are pissed off, I think guys want to play better and I think we know how. We’ve played good football here a few weeks ago. We know what it takes, we know what it feels like to win, we know what it feels like to lose. I think we’re fired up.’’
Ravens defensive backfield vs. Giants receiving targets
The most vulnerable area on the Ravens defense is their secondary now what CB Jimmy Smith is out and CB Markus Peters is questionable. There is certainly no guarantee the guys the Giants pay to run routes and make tough catches can take advantage of this. Golden Tate (calf) is unavailable. Sterling Shepard insists he is getting open often enough. Fine. Let us see Shepard and Darius Slayton, laboring through a regression in Year 2, open up cushions for Jones to throw into, and if tight end Evan Engram is emboldened by his Pro Bowl selection.
“Overall, we need to do a better job as a coaching staff getting them in a position to make plays,’’ said tight end coach Freddie Kitchens, who called the plays on offense last week and will cede that responsibility back to offensive coordinator Jason Garrett for this game. “Then when they have the opportunities, we need to make the plays.’’
The Giants will try to make elusive Lamar Jackson “play left-handed,’’ meaning they will try to get him out of his comfort zone. Mostly, their defense has been solid at setting the edge. Jackson in the pocket is manageable. Letting Jackson out of the pocket is going to get you beat. The Ravens’ 94 points in the first quarter is the second-highest total in the NFL. Why? Opposing defenses are not immediately ready for Jackson’s attack speed.
“You can’t go in there, dip your toe in the water and say, ‘OK, we’ll get a feel for how this game is going to go,’ because by the time you get a feel for it, they’ve got 21 points on you,’’ Joe Judge said.
Jonesing for Daniel
Can Daniel Jones salvage something from a regressive second season with a strong closing act? He had several “wow’’ moments as a rookie. Not so much in 2020. If his legs are healed up enough to allow him to run, he must be judicious with his scrambling. He has not put together one completely impressive game all season. If he has it in him, this would be the opportune time.
Ups and Downs in Blue
Nearing the end of his second NFL season, it has been an up-and-down Giants existence for Julian Love. He fell out of favor with last year’s since-departed coaching staff and did not get on the field much early with this new regime. Love last week played a season-high 61 snaps on defense, moved from free safety to cornerback, as James Bradberry was out. Maybe Love is establishing a foothold for 2021.
“Julian Love is growing on me day by day, week by week,’’ defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said. “This guy, his toughness is showing up. The tackling, his versatility, he was competitive on a bunch of balls.’’
There is plenty for the Giants to overcome to pull off this upset. Where and especially when the game is taking place is quite an obstacle. The Ravens are gunning for their eighth consecutive home win in December. Their 12-2 record in the final month of the year since 2018 is the best in the league. No hostile fans in the seats has been agreeable to the Giants. They are better on the road (3-4) than at home (2-5) this season.
This would be a greater upset than beating the Seahawks in Seattle, as the Ravens are desperate, with no room to slip up in their quest for the playoffs. Getting Daniel Jones back should help, as long as he can move. Ravens like to play bully-ball. The Giants can do it on defense. Not so much on offense, other than flashes in their ground game. Lamar Jackson is on a roll and tough to corral.
Ravens 27, Giants 20