Of all the phrases Joe Judge rinses and repeats with his team, “supposed to’’ is not one of his favorites.
Oh, there is plenty the Giants are supposed to know and do. Be on time. Be attentive. Be respectful and alert. And, in this most unusual year, be ever-mindful of the COVID-19 restrictions and protocols that keep this whole thing up and running.
This week, there is a “supposed to’’ Judge is trying to keep out of the building. If he could bar the doors, stuff the vents and darken the windows, he might.
The Giants are supposed to beat the Bengals on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Will the NFL tilt on its axis if it does not happen? Of course not. Would it be one of the biggest upsets of the season? No way. But the Giants are rested and coming off a two-game winning streak. The Bengals are dealing with the devastating season-ending knee injury to their rookie sensation, Joe Burrow, who was one of the main and only reasons to feel good about what is going on in Cincinnati. They are expected to go with a quarterback, Brandon Allen, who has three NFL starts and is in many ways a complete wild-card choice.
The Giants at 3-7 are in the middle of a strange but true playoff chase. The Bengals are 2-7-1 and embedded in last place in the AFC North. The Giants are favored in a road game for the first time in four years. So many signs point to the Giants here. Supposedly.
“The message I always have for the players is look, if you start reading headlines and you want to believe the good, then you better be ready to believe the bad because a lot of the same people are writing two different stories about you weeks apart.’’ Judge said. “You can’t go with the roller coaster up and down. Whatever is said on the outside of the building may have some truth to it, but at the same time, we can’t let that dictate how we prepare or the flow that we have and the mindset that we have.
“Look, just because we’ve had some games go a different way than maybe earlier in the season these last couple weeks, that does not change how we prepare, it does not change our mindset. Every week, we truly work to be 1-0. That’s the only important thing on a weekly basis. Our players, I believe, understand that everything we do adds up. But ultimately, it only matters what you do for those 60 minutes or those three-hour windows on Sundays when it really matters.’’
What really matters is not what is supposed to happen but what actually does happen. The Giants are 0-5 this season when playing outside their own division, making this another frontier for them to cross.
Judge hopes there is no difference with how the Giants operate as a team suddenly heaped with outside expectations and the team that labored through the first half of the season, pulled down by the weight of failure.
“We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to be in this thing and everyone in the division is,’’ safety Logan Ryan said. “We see how hard it is to win in the NFL. It’s not easy. We’ve lost so many times and we didn’t have the ability to finish so many times. We learned how to finish; we’re learning how to win games. We’re still doing that. The season isn’t over. We have a final road here to go and I think we just have to be very grateful for the moment.’’
Nothing will be decided this week or this weekend, as the four teams in the NFC East after 10 weeks and before the Thanksgiving kickoff to Week 12 owned the same number of victories — three — and were separated, from top to bottom, by one-half game.
“We’re coming out of Thanksgiving after this weekend, everyone is really on equal ground,’’ Judge said. “The only thing that matters is what we do from this point forward. We have to show consistent improvement. I think our players have done that throughout the year, but nothing before this game is going to matter. Nothing is going to help us beat the Bengals other than what we do this week to prepare and how we execute for 60 minutes against Cincinnati.’’