Leonard Williams arrived in the NFL as the No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He played four full seasons and half of a fifth for the Jets before getting traded to the Giants midway through the 2019 season. As sturdy as they come, Williams has missed only one game in his career.
He has played in 101 NFL games. The record of his team in those games: 34-67. As a rookie, the Jets went 10-6 with Williams and since then, the teams that paid him are 24-61. He has never come close to a second winning season. He is an expert on losing in the NFL.
If a sociology class needs a guest lecturer to speak on what it feels like to get booed by your own fans, Williams qualifies as an adjunct professor. With the Jets, Williams went 15-21 in home games. With the Giants, Williams is 4-11. When Williams arrives for work at MetLife Stadium, the ensuing result that happens 63 percent of the time is a big, fat “L.”
This season, the Giants are 0-3 at home and they have been outscored in those three games, 82-38. Only one of the games was competitive in the fourth quarter – a 17-14 loss to the Falcons in Week 3. Fans opting to spend a beautiful fall afternoon at the stadium this past Sunday would have been better served exiting at halftime (the Giants were down 28-3) or after three quarters (31-3) to get a jump on beating traffic (good luck with that, curse you GWB), or to hustle over to get the early-bird dinner special at the local diner.
What does all this have to do with Williams? It is evidence that he knows not of what he speaks when he criticized Giants fans for the repeated booing that wafted down from the crowd at various junctures of the 38-11 loss to the Rams.
Here is a simple rejoinder (free of charge) offered to professional players when they are asked about getting booed by their own fans: the less said, the better. Try this on for size:
“I understand their frustration. We are frustrated too. They pay good money to see us play and they have a right to express their opinion when we do not give them a quality product.”
That is it. End of comment. Enough said. Rinse and repeat.
Now then, if the player wants to really ingratiate himself with the paying customers, or if the particular loss was especially heinous, the player can do a mike-drop with this one liner:
“If I were them, I’d have booed us too.”
This is always a nice touch.
Williams is a laid-back guy and it is actually easy to believe he means what he says when it comes to booing. He does not believe in it, no matter what. He admitted hearing the boos at home bothers him.
“I don’t want to be hearing boos from my own fans,” he said. “I understand that they have a right to be upset as well because they’re coming to see us put good football on the field. We haven’t been winning up to date. But at the same time, I don’t know, I don’t like that.”
Williams then went on to add a tortured analogy, saying he would not boo a salesman because he was not doing a good job. The best line from Williams was this: “It doesn’t matter what I think. I go out there to play football. I don’t sit in the stands, so I can’t see it from their perspective.”
This is true. Williams cannot see it from the perspective of the fans. He puts on the helmet and pads every game, does his best to disrupt the quarterback and stop the run, showers and leaves. If there was a clock to punch, he would punch it. He is a good player with a new $63 million contract, and he never got paid a dime based on any statistical data as to why he helped his team win, because not much of that exists.
This is not an indictment of Leonard Williams. The Giants have so many more urgent and alarming issues than disgruntlement from a prominent player (or two, or more) that their feelings get hurt when their fans boo them.
There are moments for sports franchises where it all turns, where patience and next-year aspirations are shot and all that is left is distrust and anger. The Giants are there. There is no benefit of the doubt with anyone, from the 53rd player on the team to the entire coaching staff to the front office to ownership. Everyone is complicit in these football crimes. An operation does not play 51 games and lose 32 of them, as the Giants have done since the start of the 2017 season, without too many fingerprints to count as incriminating evidence.
Williams does not speak for the team or all players. He speaks for himself. Others have steered clear of the booing question or else met it head-on. Players are not fans of the team they play for. Fans are embarrassed. That is not a word bandied about by players too often, if ever.
Safety Logan Ryan, who chooses every word carefully, called what went down against the Rams an “unacceptable performance” and added, “I’m not embarrassed because I gave my max effort. I went out there, I prepared hard, I felt like I led the guys the best I could and went out there and played. It just didn’t work out. It was hugely unacceptable, but I’m not very — at this point in my life, I don’t get embarrassed too often, so I don’t want to say embarrassed is the word.”
Ryan is a player. He got paid to be at MetLife Stadium this past weekend. The fans paid to get in. Boo all you want, but know this: the loudest protest any fan base can make is silence. Empty seats mean lost revenue and that will not be tolerated by those who pay the players, who get booed.
More that came out of the worst Giants loss of an already-terrible season:
Sit the man
Korey Cunningham, elevated from the practice squad earlier in the week, played his first three snaps for the Giants to close out the game, lining up at right tackle. So, coach Joe Judge thought it wise to have his starting quarterback in the game to the bitter end, throwing on every down, with a third-string tackle in to protect him.
Sometimes a coach wants to keep his guys in there hoping they find a way to leave the field on a positive note. Judge had his opening for this. Jones orchestrated a meaningless 53-yard touchdown drive ending with 6:21 remaining. Perfect. This was the positive note amid all the disharmony. Time for Mike Glennon to finish up at quarterback.
But, no. With 3:21 to go, Jones came back out and proceeded to throw 10 passes on the final 10 plays. For what? Imagine if he got hurt in these closing seconds?
Trickery, no treat
The Giants even botched a play that did not count. Late in the first quarter, the Rams on 4th-and-11 – thanks to a sack from Williams for a seven-yard loss – were set to punt from the Giants’ 42-yard line. On the sideline, Judge was shouting to watch the fake punt – always a possibility with Rams punter Johnny Hekker, a master at such deception.
Judge’s warning was either unheeded or too late, as Hekker took the snap and easily found receiver Ben Skowronek, completely uncovered, on the left side, where the Giants did not have a gunner lined up opposite him. The uncontested pitch-and-catch went for 15 yards and a first down.
The Giants were bailed out when offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties were called, nullifying the successful fake punt. Even when the play did not count, the Giants found a way to put an embarrassing product on the field.
It is not a proven axiom that bad teams get hurt more often than good teams, but it sure seems that way with the Giants.
What gives with this parade of players who filter on and off the injury list and leave games, never to return? The Giants listed left tackle Andrew Thomas (foot) and rookie receiver Kadarius Toney (ankle) as questionable heading into this game; both were limited in practice all week. Both started the game, although neither was at full strength. Toney lasted six snaps before his ankle gave out. Thomas was in for 29 snaps, then took a seat for good with what might be a new ankle issue, or else an ailment that arose as a result of the foot injury. Were they rushed back too quickly?
Saquon Barkley (ankle) and Kenny Golladay (knee) were casualties of the terrible loss in Dallas in Week 5. This is now an epidemic.