There is no doubt the Giants are getting better, improving, showing many of the earmarks of a stable, well-coached team capable of finding ways to stay just close enough to lose in agonizing fashion.
This is either progress, madness or an extreme form of torture to a fan base that is punch-drunk woozy going on four years now. Breaking down failure, when a franchise is 13-43 since the start of the 2017 season, is akin to collecting and categorizing the leaves falling from the trees on your property. They are everywhere, some more colorful, some barely distinguishable. They sit there for a while, piled up in bunches, scattered around randomly before getting raked up or blown away.
For an operation that is now known for winning about once a month – this is as enjoyable as paying the rent – the Giants under Joe Judge are not lovable as they continue to be losers, by the strict definition of the term. Call a player a loser and brace for impact. Call a team losers and brace for impact. But when recent history states the collection of players and coaches win 23 percent of the time and lose the other 77 percent of the time, what other description can be applied?
Judge’s outfit is the best damn 1-7 team out there. They played better for longer stretches Monday night than Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, which means plenty in the big picture and not much in the here and now. When Daniel Jones threw too slow and too inside for Dion Lewis on a two-point conversion try with 28 seconds remaining, the door was opened for a penalty flag thrown and then picked up, opening the door even wider to add some controversy into another setback. The 25-23 loss meant the Giants’ most recent three losses – to the Cowboys, Eagles and Bucs – were decided by a total of six points. Their last four games – the lone victory, against Washington, is in there – were decided by a total of seven points. In Week 2, the Giants had the ball in the closing minute with chance to beat the Bears in Chicago. There was a one-score loss to the Rams in Inglewood.
It is not easy to beat Judge’s Giants but, for now, almost impossible to get beat by them.
The Giants are on pace for a 2-14 finish. Based on the way they are playing, there is little reason to believe it will be that bad. On the flip side, given the way they manufacture losing into an inevitability, there are no assurances they leave the field any day or night with more points than the opponent.
It is understandable Judge, for public consumption, is taking an overwhelmingly positive view of all this. He spoke passionately in his introductory press conference about the need for the team to reflect the New York/New Jersey area and, as these losses mount, he is either reminded or on his own brings up this connection.
“We’re not asking for moral victories,” he said after loss No. 7. “We understand the people of New York deserve better, so we got to keep working to be better for them.”
The Giants have reached midseason accomplishing something that defies logic – falling by the wayside in the NFC East, a division where no one should be left behind.
Asked what he sees out of his team at this mid-point, Judge forged ahead.
“A lot of improvement, I see a lot of improvement,” he said. “So, if you’re going to ask me, the first year, how I’d classify it, I see an improving team that is developing in the division going forward.”
The cynic will say without winning, these signs of improvement are not much to feel good about. The Giants are young, and that is a positive, and in the final eight games one reveal looms more crucial than the rest: What if all this improvement is taking place while Jones, the quarterback, is not progressing with the rest of the group?
More that came out of a closely contested “Monday Night Football” encounter with the Bucs:
— The Giants were ahead of the Eagles 21-10 in the fourth quarter and lost in Week 7. The Giants where ahead of the Bucs 17-15 in the fourth quarter and lost in Week 8. Blowing leads is not a good thing to have on a defensive coordinator’s resume. This should not stick to Patrick Graham, though. He is doing an excellent job mixing and matching his players, shuffling packages on and off the field, getting pressure despite not having a dominating pass rusher, getting coverage despite a glaring deficiency at the No. 2 cornerback spot. “In my opinion, Pat Graham is one of the best defensive coordinators out there,” linebacker Blake Martinez said. “His ability to design a game and understand and adjust throughout the game has been amazing throughout the whole season.” Graham had Tom Brady confused in the first half, which is an accomplishment.
— The Giants are succeeding at a difficult assignment: Mixing in young offensive linemen during the flow of the game. Rookie Matt Peart got 24 snaps (out of 74) at right tackle, replacing veteran Cam Fleming for a few series. This is valuable experience for Peart, the third-round pick from UConn. Another rookie, Shane Lemieux, made his NFL starting debut, replacing Will Hernandez (reserve/COVID-19 list) and played all 74 snaps. Along with Andrew Thomas at left tackle, the Giants at times had three rookie offensive linemen on the field. The last time the Giants had three rookie offensive linemen start at least one game in the same season was 2003 (David Diehl, Wayne Lucifer and Jeff Roehl). The best moment for the youngsters: Wayne Gallman’s 2-yard touchdown run, with Thomas and Lemieux plowing ahead to allow Gallman to ease his way into the end zone.
— As for Gallman, is anyone else out there a bit frustrated and confused why he does not get the ball more often? With Devonta Freeman (ankle) out, Gallman started but was only on the field 43 percent of the offensive snaps. He ran the ball 12 times for 44 yards. Alfred Morris, the 31-year old veteran elevated off the practice squad, got eight rushing attempts and gained 28 yards. Sure, Gallman received more of the workload but perhaps not enough of it.
— How is this for production? Rookie outside linebacker Carter Coughlin got on the field for four defensive snaps. He came away with his first NFL sack, always a big deal. Some deals are bigger than others. Coughlin got future Hall of Famer Brady to the ground. Brady is 43. Coughlin is 23. One to remember, for sure.