Giants, Jets Side Story
NFL Week 15 - Great news, Eagles, Cowboys, and Washington fans: Joe Judge's head-coaching job with the New York Giants appears to be safe!
Ralph Vacchiano of SNY reported on Monday that Giants co-owner John Mara is both enamored with Judge and eager to be patient with the coach after giving Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur quick hooks over the last five seasons.
Per Vacchiano's source: "(Mara) loves Judge. He thinks he's found his (Bill) Belichick or (Bill) Parcells."
Try not to giggle (non-Giants fans) or sob (Giants fans) uncontrollably, dear readers.
Vacchiano's reporting reinforces everything Walkthrough has seen/read/heard emanating from East Rutherford over the last few months. Judge—whose coaching drove several veterans to retirement at the start of training camp, who thinks fourth-and-1 near midfield while trailing is a prime punting opportunity, and who has difficulty with the sort of technology kindergartners used to learn phonics last year—has somehow emerged victorious from a quiet coup at Giants headquarters. Of course, his prime challengers were Dave Gettleman (likely to retire) and Jason Garrett (fired), so this was much more like a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos than of thrones.
Judge is yet another example of that remarkable sort of individual that football coaching seems to breed by the bushel: someone outstanding at keeping the job but terrible at actually doing the job.
Coaches like Judge possess almost supernatural powers of blame-deflection and timeline extension. For example, Judge claimed on Monday that the Giants rebuild has been delayed because it has taken longer than expected to teach players how to practice. What the hell is that even supposed to mean?
Judge has also been rehashing the same tired "culture change" boilerplate that coaches have been spewing for decades. It takes downright transcendent chutzpah to still be talking about the need for culture change and better practice habits AFTER TWO YEARS ON THE FREAKIN' JOB yet convince ownership that somehow you are not the one who should be held accountable for those problems. Judge, like fellow former Belichick buddies Bill O'Brien and Matt Patricia, appears to be fueled by nothing but said chutzpah, a staggering ego, simmering rage, and a little too much coffee.
There are two probabilities to consider before we continue. First, Vacchiano's sources (and various other reports/whispers) may be off base, or Judge may do something inexcusable over the next month, and Giants ownership might still end up doing the logical thing and setting Judge adrift in the Hudson Bay on a garbage barge. Second, Judge might actually improve as a coach with Gettleman, Garrett, and the COVID restrictions which indeed hampered Judge's first season out of the picture. Walkthrough gives the first possibility a 20% chance of happening and the second possibility about a 0.2% chance. Keeping Judge would be very much in character for Mara, and Judge has not done a solitary thing through two seasons to inspire confidence in his leadership.
Think of what happens next: Judge will get to help select his general manager, who will probably be yet another Patriots castoff whose sole qualification is being a Patriots castoff. Daniel Jones sure sounds like he's shelved for the year, the Saquon Barkley saga is reaching its predictable conclusion, and the Giants are somehow (thanks, Uncle Dave!) tight against the 2022 salary cap. That means the Giants are about to entrust a floor-to-rafters rebuild to Punty McHeadset!
And here's the kicker: Jones is also an untouchable Mara favorite. If you thought the Jeffrey Lurie-Doug Pederson-Carson Wentz drama in Philly came to a thunderously weird conclusion last year, just wait until Judge and Mara clash over whether to give an Eli Manning cosplayer $16 million per touchdown when the Giants are once again 4-9 in 2023.
The Giants dysfunction makes the Cowboys and Eagles look like model organizations: Jerry Jones' "spend money on famous names" strategy is dumb but not stupid, and the Eagles have puppydog charm on the field, an abundance of future draft capital, and a puncher's chance at a wild-card berth. As for Washington: well, Ron Rivera is cool. The Giants are just squandering decades of goodwill and benefit of the doubt by doubling down on Judge. They cannot stop searching for their next Bill Parcells when what they really need to do is stop living in the past.
But enough about the Giants. It's time to hop back on the Turnpike south, merge onto I-78, look for exit 24 … oops, is it Route 24? … darn it, I always screw this up. Gotta pull over and reset my GPS…
TankWatch: New York Jets
As the 2021 season draws toward its conclusion, TankWatch examines teams at the bottom of the standings and determines how they can claw back toward respectability over the next few weeks/months/years.
Jets Season in a Nutshell: Three weeks per month, the Jets are athletically outclassed on both sides of the ball by their opponent, typically resulting in a slow-motion blowout loss.
Last Sunday, the New Orleans Saints overwhelmed the Jets on both lines of scrimmage and hammered out a 30-9 victory. The Jets offense and special teams were more lively against the Eagles in Week 12, but their defense proved incapable of stopping the run, and their offense ran out of steam before halftime in a 38-13 loss. And that's what happens when the Jets face middleweights led by Gardner Minshew or Taysom Hill. Things get really ugly when Mac Jones and the Patriots or Josh Allen come to town.
Once per month, the Jets pull themselves together for a stunning upset or a competent victory over a fellow bottom-feeder. But it's impossible to tell when those performance spikes are coming.
Coaching Situation: In a season full of self-inflicted coaching scandals in Jacksonville and Las Vegas, Robert Saleh and his staff have mostly avoided any embarrassing own-goals. Still, there have been some puzzling situations: the Jets defense failing to prepare for Minshew during a week of Jalen Hurts injury murmurs, the unvaccinated Joe Flacco trade (a Joe Douglas move which received Saleh's approval), and poor message management during the brief Zach Wilson/Mike White controversy.
Saleh's biggest problem, however, remains the fact that the Jets have fielded an NFL Europe-caliber roster all season.
Quarterback Situation: Wilson has been mostly miserable. A weak supporting cast and the fact that the Jets are always playing from behind contribute to the problem, but Wilson bounced a routine pass into the flat against the Saints last week, and previous games have been filled with other troubling throws. Wilson appears to get worse in garbage time, which could be a discouraging sign that he's not figuring out how to find and deliver the easy throws that soft late-game defenses offer him.
Building Blocks: There is not a single blue-chip prospect on the active roster right now. Wilson hasn't earned that label yet. Tackle Mekhi Becton and edge-rusher Carl Lawson have been injured all season. The best young players on the field right now, such as guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and edge rusher John Franklin-Myers, are more like nice little complementary pieces than true cornerstones.
The Jets have nothing to show from their 2018 to 2020 drafts except Becton and Quinnen Williams. They're going into battle with a roster full of recent late-round picks and second-tier free agents. The results have been predictable.
Future Assets: Finally, some good news! The Jets possess two first-round picks thanks to the Jamal Adams trade and two second-round picks thanks to the Sam Darnold trade.
The Jets also possess $49 million in on-paper 2022 cap space. Safety Marcus Maye is their biggest-name in-house free agent, and they are likely to let him walk. The Jets can afford to keep some useful veterans such as C.J. Mosley around for another year and can re-sign veterans such as Jamison Crowder and Morgan Moses if they want to keep the offense spackled together.
Rebuilding Plan: Hit on those early draft picks, naturally. Some combination of edge rusher, cornerback, offensive line reinforcement, and tight end would be a fine haul for what should be four picks among the first 50. After watching Ty Johnson drop multiple swing passes on Sunday, a Day 2 running back would also be swell. That cap space is best spent in-house or used on one-year deals for competent veterans to plug gaping roster holes. The Jets should aim realistically for a bottom-of-the-playoff-chase 2022 season that they can use as a springboard toward 2023.
Dangling Mike White in front of some quarterback-needy team in exchange for a late-round pick would also be wise, because New York is New York, and the Jets won't be doing Wilson any favors by letting White act like a hero in the second halves of 2022 preseason games.
Final Prognosis: Once again, the Jets are waiting for next year's draft, and they need precision-tuned instruments to identify any flickers of quarterback development or coaching optimism. But things aren't as hopeless as they can appear when Taysom Hill is scampering through the defense for long touchdowns. Becton and Vera-Tucker could soon anchor a trustworthy offensive line. Lawson, Franklin-Williams and a newcomer could create a formidable pass rush. Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, a returnee such as Crowder, and some 2022 draftees could be the nucleus of a fun-to-watch offense that allows Wilson to succeed as a ball-distributor once the Jets aren't facing opponents bigger, faster, and more experienced than they are at nearly every position.
The Jets are no worse off than they usually are. For an organization rebuilding after an Adam Gase administration, that's progress.
TebowMania Ten Years After: Reality Bites
This installment of TebowMania Ten Years After is dedicated to the memory of Demaryius Thomas, who passed away at age 33 on December 9.
Many truly memorable superhero story arcs end with the villains joining forces with the heroes to stop a greater threat. The seminal Justice League Unlimited cartoon series of the early 2000s, for example, ended with Lex Luthor joining forces with Batman, Superman, and company so (spoilers) he could swindle Darkseid into leaving the galaxy instead of enslaving Earth.
And lo, there came a day when the football world's only hope of stopping TebowMania rested with Walkthrough's mightiest antagonists: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
If you remember the 41-23 Week 15 Patriots victory over the Broncos in 2011 as a devastating indictment of all things Tim Tebow, you have probably conflated this game in your memory with the Patriots' playoff victory over the Broncos a few weeks later. Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Tebow played moderately well in this game—11-of-22 passing for 194 yards, 12-93-2 with one fumble lost rushing—and these excerpts from Audibles indicate that the game felt competitive until the fourth quarter.
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots just look horrible early on defense. Just awful. Can't tackle. Can't get off blocks. The Broncos are running all over them. Tim Tebow has also hit a couple of good passes on totally open receivers.
Vince Verhei: Ben Muth has said that teams don't even bother blocking cornerbacks on running plays, because cornerbacks don't want to tackle running backs anyway. New England's defense appears to be fielding 11 cornerbacks.
Aaron Schatz: The Broncos had something like 240 yards in the first quarter. They get into the red zone near the start of the second quarter, and Tebow runs for 7 yards on third-and-8, but there's a holding penalty. At first the Pats accept the holding, then they decide to decline instead, so it is fourth-and-1. Denver brings in the field goal kicker. Man, if you are Denver, doesn't it make sense to go for it more often on fourth-and-1? Especially with Tebow? Does anyone think this Pats defense has more than a 20% chance to stop Tebow on fourth-and-1?
Vince Verhei: On the same note, Denver is currently ahead 16-14 because they missed their first extra point, then kicked the next one. Shouldn't Denver always go for two, especially to make up for the one they missed earlier?
Aaron Schatz: That was the best play of the game. The Patriots players picked up the aborted extra point and went running for the end zone celebrating. Whoever "scored" with it pointed to the sky, I think mocking Tebow. They had no idea that you can't return a missed extra point for a score in the NFL. It was hilarious.
Tim Gerheim: Wow, check out Jim Nantz's tie-and-sweater combination; I didn't know he was a Gryffindor.
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots offense really took over after the first quarter. It doesn't even look like the Patriots defense is playing much better than before, mostly because the Patriots defense has barely been on the field ... they've stopped the Broncos a couple times and that was good enough for the Pats to score 27 straight unanswered points.
Whoops, forgot one other thing: fumble luck. Three Denver fumbles so far, and all of them were recovered by the Patriots, including the muffed punt by [Quan] Cosby. Muffed punts are almost always recovered by the return team, not the punting team, so that's a nice piece of serendipity.
Mike Tanier: It ain't over yet.
Aaron Schatz: No kidding. Tebow just made an amazing play in his own end zone. Second-and-14, Pats defender Brandon Deaderick blows past Zane Beadles and tries to drag Tebow down for the safety, Tebow stays on his feet, but the ball bounces loose. Deaderick is wrapped up with an offensive lineman on the ground though, so Tebow is able to pick up the ball in the back zone and throw it away (skipping a pass on the ground ahead of Demaryius Thomas) instead of taking a safety or, worse, the Pats getting a touchdown. Just another one of those amazing athletic plays by Tebow.
Oh boy. Here we go with the Tebow. Third-and-18, Devin McCourty thinks he has help over the top and Sergio Brown is still hanging around in the middle of the field, leaving Demaryius Thomas wide open on the sideline for a 39-yard gain. On the next play, a dumpoff to Lance Ball. Jerod Mayo, who is covering Ball, leaves Ball to try to come after Tebow scrambling. 35-yard gain. Next play: Tebow quarterback power for a touchdown. Patriots by 11.
Hmmm. Tebow Time may be preempted by a Denver defensive scheme that is leaving the Patriots tight ends wide open in the middle of the field.
Mike Tanier: I am stuck watching anti-Tebow Vince Young, but it appears that the Patriots have run out of plays and plan to run Tom Brady sneaks for the rest of the game at the goal line.
Robert Weintraub: Oh, [television director] Mike Arnold, no! Tebow is wandering around after the gun looking for Brady, the Tom/Tim meeting they need to capture, and just as they go to shake hands Arnold cuts to Welker just standing there! They switched it fast, so perhaps he just called the wrong camera in the heat of the moment, or maybe they were losing the handheld look. Made up for it with good sound, though, hearing Brady say "maybe we'll see you again."
Here's the video of the Tebow-Brady meeting Rob mentions. It's genuinely sincere and touching. My shriveled little heart grew two sizes watching it.
And here's a highlight montage of the game. If you listen to the chuckling at the end of the Wizard of Oz "TE-HE-BOWWW" gag when Tebow is sacked for a 27-yard loss, you can almost hear the relief in the voices of the hosts, who had probably been chuckling off-camera at Tebow for weeks.
So the Broncos lost to a Patriots team destined to reach the Super Bowl, but Tebow produced his second semi-credible game as a dual-threat in three weeks. If Jalen Hurts, another collegiate superstar turned scrambling second-year starter whose team is at the bottom of the playoff chase, had a game like this against the 2021 Patriots or Buccaneers at the end of a winning streak, no one would think, "Eh, that kid has no chance of being anything but a fad." No one would build a cultural phenomenon around him either. But as mentioned in past installments, it's not hard to imagine a world where Tebow developed a little as a passer and decision-maker and someone built a Ravens-style offense around him.
The Broncos were 1-4 when Tebow replaced Kyle Orton. The Patriots loss dropped them to 8-6. They remained in contention for both the messy 2011 AFC West and a wild-card berth. A win on December 24 on Christmas Eve against the Bills would solidify their playoff chances and prove that the loss to the Patriots was just a minor plot twist in the TebowMania saga. Heck, it might have kickstarted a whole new religious movement.
Tim Tebow on Christmas Eve? What could possibly go wrong?
Next Week: It's a Blunderful Life.