BY LENN ROBBINS
Think about this: When the reports of a rookie head coach taping tennis balls to defensive back’s hands and making players run for committing errors in practice, the jokes about Joe Judge almost outnumbered jokes about lawyers.
Who’s laughing now?
After the Giants 19-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, Judge’s team is in first place in the NFC East. Yes, we know there have been more jokes about the downtrodden NFC East than, well, lawyers, but the Giants have won three straight after opening the season 0-5.
The Cowboys, sans quarterback Dak Prescott and its entire starting offensive line, are done after getting obliterated by the Washington Football Team on Thanksgiving Day.
The Eagles, with their papier-mache’ O-Line and their almost broken quarterback, Carson Wentz, could be done if they lose Monday night’s game against the Seahawks.
That leaves the Giants, and the feel-good story known as the Washington Football Team, on top of the division standings at 4-7. The Giants are in first by virtue of sweeping the series.
That demands repeating: The Giants are in first place.
Or, if the season ended today, the Giants would be in the playoffs. Or, imagine the odds you could have gotten in September on those longshot wagers.
Now let’s consider just how close this team was to falling into the abyss. They lost their best player, running back Saquon Barkley, in the first game of the season. Their first-round draft choice (No. 4 overall) offensive tackle Andrew Thomas, has been much more Ereck Flowers than Justin Pugh.
Second round pick Xavier McKinney probably would have been the starting free safety had he not broken his foot. He made his season debut against the Bengals. One of last year’s 1st-rounders (No. 30), starting corner back Deandre Baker, was jettisoned his arrest for armed robbery and aggravated assault. Those charges were recently dropped but no one is screaming Baker’s innocence, because the alleged victim’s lawyer was arrested for extortion.
Hey, did you hear the one about the lawyer…?
The Giants, between their rah-rah coach and wayward cornerback, were the butt of a lot jokes.
But then we started seeing signs, some of which were hard to read. They led the Eagles 21-10 in the fourth quarter and were an Evan Engram drop away from sealing the win only to lose, 22-21. They led the Cowboys 17-3 in the second quarter and lost, 37-34, on a last-second field goal.
Judge’s attention to detail, his bluntness, his salty language, his burning competitiveness kept the Giants from being, well, the Jets. No one has accused the Giants of not playing hard. They have. Players are competing. A belief in The Judge’s Way is taking hold.
After being buried on the depth chart journeyman running back Wayne Gallman rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown in Cincinnati. The defense has not given up more than 23 points in six straight games.
Quarterback Daniel Jones was on his way to a fourth straight interception-free game before injuring his hamstring in Sunday’s win. He also was on his way to a second straight fumble-free game. Amazing how cutting down on turnovers and winning games has been linked more than Kim Kardashian and Botox.
Jones will undergo an MRI Monday to determine the extent of the injury. Hamstring injuries can be fickle, which means they scream for restraint in terms of getting back on the field.
Just a few weeks ago, when he was turning over the ball like a NYC meter maid handing out parking tickets, some Giants fans were thinking about life without Jones and with one of the highly touted QB prospects in the upcoming draft.
Now, the thought of the Giants having any success in the upcoming four-game stretch that is Seattle, Arizona, Cleveland and Baltimore without Jones seems doubtful.
This appears to be certain, however. The Giants have improved significantly since Week 1. Judge, to quote Sinatra, seems to have won over the locker room by doing it his way.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed, especially in the era of pandemic. The Broncos played without a quarterback on Sunday, losing 31-3 to the Saints in a game the NFL should be ashamed of. It proves that anything can happen this season.
The combined record of the three teams the Giants beat on this win streak is 9-21-1. The combined record of the next four opponents is 27-15. Jones might be sidelined for a while. But who knows?
“I don’t think you can compare this year to any other year,” Judge said. “However, I am proud of our players, of the way our players are working. I’m proud of the improvement they’ve made. I’m proud of how they come to work every day.”