Home Sports Joe Judge’s Giants show they belong in crucial baby step

Joe Judge’s Giants show they belong in crucial baby step

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In time, and hopefully a short period of time, the moral victories will vanish. In Joe Judge’s mind, of course, they are probably already taboo. There are only two numbers on either side of the hyphen that defines coaching success, after all — maybe three, if you wind up walking out of a game tied. That’s it.

One old Giants coach used to put it this way: “No medals for trying.”

This Giants coach puts it another way: “I’m proud of the way we played together for 60 minutes. But there are some things we have to clean up. We need to stop with the unnecessary turnovers and penalties.”

This is what you want to hear if you are a Giants fan, no matter how valiantly the team played Monday night at MetLife Stadium, no matter how feisty they looked before falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-16 in Judge’s maiden voyage as head coach. They led 3-0. They led 10-3. They were on the doorstep of taking a third-quarter lead at the end of a remarkable 19-play drive …

And, yes: there will come a time, and hopefully in a short period of time, when that isn’t enough. You get the sense, given truth serum, that Judge would tell you it already isn’t enough. Good for him. And good for the Giants if his exacting expectations become the organizational standard.

For now, though?

Look, this is a team coming off 4-12 and 5-11 and 3-13. There is only so much magic a coach can perform before he has the players that make all of his ideas translate from chalkboard to playing field. But the Steelers are a terrific team, one that could have the goods to play in Tampa in February, especially if Ben Roethlisberger approximates for the next four months what he did Monday night.

And the Giants played like they belonged.

The Giants took a much-needed baby step tonight.
The Giants took a much-needed baby step tonight.Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Again: baby steps. Again: it’s a low, low bar. But this is where they need to be right now. They have spent the last three seasons swallowed in humiliation. They have cost two head coaches their jobs. They have co-authored one of the grimmest chapters of New York football that we’ve ever had.

The Giants probably don’t want to take solace from anything the Jets do. Giants fans certainly would prefer not to. But the truth of it is this: the two teams lost openers by the exact same spread and by oddly similar scores: 27-17 for the Jets, 26-16 for the Giants.

Who do you think feels better about their team right now?

“When you play the Steelers you know they’re going to make plays,” Judge said, after the Steelers made just enough of those plays against his team. “They’re good for a reason.”

So what this season boils down to, in this week and all the weeks to come, is how the Giants build on the basic professionalism they displayed Monday night. If your house is buried in a mudslide the first thing you have to do is get rid of the mud. And the Giants have three years’ worth of mud to eradicate.

But the defense looked awfully good across the first 25 or so minutes of the game, taking advantage of Roethlisberger’s rust and some disjointed Pittsburgh possessions. Daniel Jones played exactly the kind of game he specialized in last year: moments when he looked absolutely brilliant, fearlessly running (and keeping his hands on) the ball when called for, tossing a gorgeous 42-yard scoring pass to Darius Slayton.

Of course, the one play everyone was muttering about was the 19th play of a splendid 19-play drive in which Jones had guided the Giants from the shadow of their own goal line to the shadow of Pittsburgh’s, then made a stunningly bad decision to force his way and getting the ball tipped and picked.

“I’d like to have that back and look at it with the coaches,” Jones conceded.

Said Judge: “That’s definitely something you can’t have.”

It would be helpful if the Giants’ other nascent star, Saquon Barkley, not have many more games that resemble this 15-carry, 6-yard nightmare. Barkley did have one play that reminded us what glories he capable of, a 38-yard reception in space. But all that did was reaffirm that if the Giants’ chronic offensive line woes weren’t as obvious in terms of a run-for-your-life quarterback, as they’ve been in past years, it is zero benefit to have a talent like Barkley smash into scrums that have no holes in them.

“We’ve got to find a way to get the running game going,” Barkley said. “I’ve got to do better.”

They all do. But based on what we saw Monday night — and this is the thing to take away here — they all should. Baby steps. Low bars. For now, that’s what matters. For now. Hopefully not for long.

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