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Joe Judge’s Hall of Fame prep work can’t get him a pass much longer

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Joe Judge’s Hall of Fame prep work can’t get him a pass much longer

Joe Judge is the guy on the driving range who consistently pounds it 300 yards, with the prettiest draw, and then cannot keep his ball on the fairway when tournament officials are keeping score. Every week, when performing his game autopsies and delivering his soliloquies on the next opponent, Judge reminds people why the Giants hired him out of left field.

He reminds people why John Mara was blown away by his job interview, and has all but guaranteed his return for 2022.

Monday afternoon, still surely hurting from his team’s humiliation in Philly, Judge fielded a question that would have sent his former employer, Bill Belichick, into a tailspin. He was asked if all the losing ever moved him to get disgusted, frustrated and just plain sick of his job. “And what, infer that we would go home early and take more time off?” he asked with some incredulity, before delivering an answer about the love of the game and the craft that was too genuine to have ever been crafted by a public relations pro.

That’s the Judge that Mara and all Giants live with during the week, at the team’s facility, and then dies with on Sundays, at the ballpark. If they had a Hall of Fame for prep work, and motivational speeches and pregame and postgame breakdowns, Judge would be at his local tailor’s right now getting measured for his gold jacket.

Giants head coach Joe Judge looks on during the fourth quarter against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 26, 2021 in Philadelphia.
Joe Judge
Getty Images

But that’s not the way football or life works. It’s all about the final score, and the game-day performances that define it. Judge has presided over a complete free fall this year, after winning five of his final eight games in his rookie season, and a lot of fans want him fired. Only Mara isn’t going to fire him, even if the Giants lose to Chicago and Washington and finish 4-13.

Mara has always looked for reasons to keep people, not reasons to get rid of them, which makes him an ideal boss for a Giants employee — if not an ideal owner for a Giants fan. The paying customers are the ones disgusted, frustrated and just plain sick of what’s gone down, because their team is 35 games below .500 over the last five seasons, and many want Judge to follow GM Dave Gettleman out the door.

Mara will tell Gettleman’s replacement that he prefers not to replace the coach, and then it’s the new GM’s call whether to push back. But assuming Judge survives and advances to a third season as Giants coach, he might want to send thank-you notes to Pat Shurmur and Ben McAdoo for getting themselves fired after two seasons. If one of those men had lasted four or five years on the job, it’s possible that Judge would be two-and-done.

As a lifelong New Yorker, Mara never desired to be another in-his-prime George Steinbrenner. He is embarrassed by the rapid coaching turnover, and that embarrassment is now one of Judge’s best friends, the wobbly bridge carrying the coach to 2022. Between now and then, Judge needs to figure out how to connect with his players on Sundays like he does the rest of the week. He turns 40 years old Friday. Maybe the occasion will flip some internal switch and make him a wiser head.

Monday afternoon, one Giants legend Judge has said he wants to be associated with, Bill Parcells, was on the phone talking about the fine line separating a potential firing from potential greatness. He mentioned his former assistant, Bill Belichick, who was 5-13 in New England and flirting with disaster before everything changed on a dime. Parcells mentioned his own 3-12-1 rookie year as Giants coach in 1983, and GM George Young’s keen interest in firing him. “I almost didn’t make it,” he said, “but I saved myself. I don’t think I would’ve survived a bad second year.”

Judge apparently will, in large part because of the way he carries himself publicly and privately as a franchise rep. When asked that question Monday about whether he was tempted to cave to the negative impulses tethered to failure, Judge called the chance to watch players successfully apply the lessons and techniques they were taught “the addiction you have. … That’s really the adrenaline, the kick you really have as a coach, is that high you get from really working with the team and being able to share in their success. And that’s really what you live for.”

Judge brought up his time coaching at Division III Birmingham-Southern, “where we played in front of close friends and family only, high school stadiums where I could look out of the press box and I knew where my wife walked up exactly with my son. You see him walk because there was nobody else in the stadium.

“I enjoy that every bit as much as I enjoy this. You have to love the coaching, you have to love the process, you have to love the players, and you have to love the team aspect of it.”

But in the big leagues, you also have to win. When Joe Judge opens his mouth, he shows people why the Giants hired him in the first place. If that’s good enough to earn the coach a third year, it sure won’t be good enough to earn him a fourth.

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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