If Joe Judge is going to surrender like that, the Giants should give up on him too

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·NFL columnist
·5-min read
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  • Joe Judge
    American football coach (born 1981)

"Relentless" was a word Joe Judge used as an anchor in the first media conference of his New York Giants coaching career. It was the kind of buzzy, coach-speak term that rolls off the tongue well in interviews and can be easily plastered somewhere in the team facility. If Ted Lasso has “Believe,” Joe Judge has “relentless.”

Relentless in losing … in making mistakes … in overseeing decline. 

They're relentless reminders that fruit of the Bill Belichick coaching tree is usually long on the culture promises but short on the sustained accomplishments. Not to mention filled with regrettable phrases that become demonstrably false when put to the test.

The man said this on Jan. 9, 2020: “We’ll play every play like it has a history and a life of its own, with a relentless, competitive attitude.”

Then he did this on Jan. 9, 2022: A quarterback sneak on third-and-9 from his own 4-yard line, in the second quarter of a game that Judge’s Giants were trailing 3-0. Sitting with a 4-12 record, no less.

In such a last-frame, nothing-to-really-lose moment of the season, most coaches call for a handoff to a running back. Maybe some kind of screen, tight end drag or receiver route that gets to the first down marker. You know, something that resembles a faintly “relentless, competitive attitude.” 

But the guy who actually used those words? He called a quarterback sneak from something that closely resembled a kneel-down formation.

Joe Judge's quarterback sneak play call against Washington was the rare intersection of total distrust and outright surrender. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Joe Judge's quarterback sneak play call against Washington was the rare intersection of total distrust and outright surrender. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

It was essentially a kneel-down that was poorly dressed up to look less cowardly to everyone with eyeballs, nothing less than a play-call of capitulation executed from a surrender formation. At that very moment, the only way Judge could have looked more fearful is if he had diagramed the call on a white flag and relayed it to the huddle by waving it from the sideline.

The moment left the Fox broadcasting crew so flabbergasted that Daryl Johnston immediately swiped, “I mean, really? You’re at the 4-yard line and you don’t feel comfortable enough in your offense to be able to run a traditional play?” To which Chris Myers responded, “This is sad.”

It’s not just sad. It’s fireable. 

While NFL history is littered with dumb plays, very few meet at the embarrassing intersection of total distrust and outright surrender. Most especially from the playbook of a head coach who promised his team would treat “every play … with a relentless, competitive attitude.”

Some might digest that point and say it’s unfair to hold Judge to guarantees from his introductory media conference, and that every coach comes in with over-the-top hyperbole and a deep bag of promises. But this guy has been a little different when it comes to his outward assessments of other programs, so it opens him up to this kind of criticism. While it’s “Joe Judge” when he’s talking about his own culture, he takes on the high throne of “Judge Joe” when he’s assessing the previous Giants regimes or franchises guided by the likes of Ron Rivera and Doug Pederson.

That may not earn Judge many friends in the NFL, but it most definitely earned him plenty of critics. It was especially glaring after he held a loose-gripped media conference after a Week 17 loss to the Chicago Bears, where he spoke about in-house free agent players begging for new contracts (which is bad form) and former free agents begging to come back (which is tampering). And all of it from the bowels of a franchise that is on the doorstep of dismissing a general manager and has a roster that looks more likely to be blown up over the next three years than guided to a Super Bowl.

An underrated skill that makes some coaches great in the NFL is simply knowing what they are and relaying it in a way that doesn’t make them sound like bad salesmen — especially in the worst of times. Through one year of his head coaching career, it felt like Judge might manage that. But when things got exponentially tougher in 2021 (for a multitude of reasons), Judge began to sound a lot more like an over-his-skis Belichick assistant who still believes he can speak a culture into existence. That reality was punctuated by that 11-minute diatribe last week that seemed to be disconnected from what was actually happening on the field.

You can’t close the season by setting a franchise record with six straight losses by 10 points or more. You can’t refer to the Washington Football Team as a “clown show organization” after Week 17 and then lose to that same organization by 15 points in Week 18. You can’t poke a finger in the eye of Pederson one year ago about “disrespecting” the game and “not competing for 60 minutes,” then basically kneel down at your 4-yard line with five minutes left in the half Sunday.

And most of all, you can’t preach and promise but come up empty over and over again. That’s what Giants ownership has to recognize right now. This isn’t a 60-minute football team. It’s not relentless. And it hasn’t been competitive since November. The decision to lean into Judge when so many questioned it has left ownership right where Judge was on Sunday: facing third-and-9 and not trusting what it sees.

Now take a cue from Judge’s Sunday surrender. Wave that white flag and move on.

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