No introductions are needed between Joe Judge, young Giants head coach, and Tom Brady, old Buccaneers quarterback.
They worked together for eight years in New England. Without Brady doing his thing, it his highly unlikely Judge would be in the position he is, entrusted with turning around what continues to be a losing operation.
Brady’s greatness elevated so many around him, including Judge. Heck, including Bill Belichick. So, the encounter on the field prior to Monday night’s game at MetLife Stadium will be brief, but no doubt poignant and meaningful, Judge sharing a few personal words or reminiscence or thanks with Brady before the old quarterback takes aim at shredding the team guided by the young head coach.
In one way, though, this is a new relationship. For the first time in Judge’s time in the NFL, he does not get to bask in the glow of Brady’s brilliance. Judge instead must attempt to accomplish what so many others usually fail to deliver: finding a way to beat Brady.
“It’s gonna be a little bit different being on an opposite sideline from him this time,’’ Judge said Tuesday, “but it’s a great challenge and we look forward to seeing him on the field.’’
Seeing Brady on the field was always a blessing for Judge, until now. Judge arrived to the Patriots in 2012, the season after Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning and that ravenous defensive front beat Brady in Super Bowl XLVI, the second time in four years the upstart Giants upset Brady and the mighty Pats. Judge was hired as a special teams assistant and the team he joined had not won a Super Bowl in nine years — an eternity for the Belichick-Brady partnership.
In 2015, Judge was promoted to special teams coordinator and of all the players he was assigned to work with on kick and punt teams, Brady’s name was never on the list. Still, so many hours spent under the same roof, wrapped up in all that winning, created a bond. In 2019, Belichick expanded Judge’s responsibilities, adding wide receivers coach to his résumé, and that brought Judge even closer to the legendary quarterback.
During the summer of 2019, Judge pored over tape of his receivers in their one-on-one individual drills with defensive backs. Judge led these meetings, of course, but every so often Brady was invited in to give his expert analysis of what the receivers were doing and how they could get better doing it.
This was important information for the receivers and provided priceless lessons for Judge.
“To me, that made you a much better coach, by listening how the quarterback sees it and what he expects on these routes,’’ Judge said. “To me, there’s fine points in coaching, but ultimately it matters how the players see it on the field. To be able to hear it through the vision that Tom had, that was really an education in itself right there.’’
Judge knows so much about Brady, and Patrick Graham, the Giants defensive coordinator, does as well after seven years as a Patriots defensive assistant. Do not expect this to give the Giants even an iota of an advantage.
This is not a fair fight. The Giants are 1-6 and facing another prime-time game, 11 nights after their beyond-disheartening 22-21 loss to the Eagles. The Bucs (5-2) are flying, coming off routs of the Packers and Raiders and averaging an NFL-high 31.7 points a game. Funny how prolific offenses seem to sprout up around Brady.
At 43, Brady is older than Judge, 38. One is defying logic in his 21st season, gunning for his first Super Bowl victory in Tampa after winning six (and losing three) for the Patriots. A slow start with his new team has given way to typically torrid Brady numbers (18 touchdown passes, only four interceptions).
“This guy is clearly one of the best to ever play the game,’’ Judge said. “He’s playing at a very high level.’’
What else is new?
“I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for him,’’ Judge said. “He was a ton of fun to be around. You really got to see one of the great competitors on a daily basis of not only how he performed, but more importantly how he prepared. I think that’s some of the things that get overlooked. It’s not accidental this guy’s playing this late in his timeline of being 40-plus years old and still playing at this high level.
“This guy, he set the tone of an entire organization. I’m very grateful for my time to be around him.’’
Let’s see how grateful Judge is after coaching in his first NFL game against him.
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