By Michael O’Brien ’23
On the night of the 2019 NFL Draft, Giants fans eagerly awaited for commissioner Roger Goodell to relay GM Dave Gettleman’s selection for the Giants #7 overall pick. Owning two picks in the first round seemed even more assuring of a productive Giants draft; it was no secret that Eli Manning’s days as a starter were numbered, so selecting a promising QB prospect such as Dwayne Haskins at #17 and an elite defensive talent like LB’s Josh Allen or Devin Bush at #7 seemed logical. However, both Giants fans and the NFL world alike were shocked when the Giants took Duke QB Daniel Jones at #7.
This selection seemed to be a flop on so many levels. Not only did the Giants take a QB who played a weak schedule for the majority of his NCAA career and passed on a battle-tested starter like Haskins, but Jones would have most likely still been on the board at #17. Giants fans not only blasted Gettleman on social media for a seemingly bone-headed pick, but they also turned their backs on Jones immediately without giving him any chance. Similarly to the New York sports world’s reaction to the selection of Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 NBA Draft, the cards seemed stacked against Jones.
But perhaps Dave Gettleman knew something that we didn’t. To open the NFL Preseason, Jones took the field for his first drive as a New York Giant; and it was nothing short of perfection. Marching down the field with complete confidence, Jones took command of the offense going 5/5 on completions, racked up 67 passing yards, and fired a perfectly placed ball to Bennie Fowler in the back corner of the end-zone; the Giants went on to defeat the Jets 31-22.
In the next pre-season competition against the Chicago Bears, Jones continued his efficiency, putting up an impressive statline of 11/14 passing, 161 yards and a touchdown in a 32-12 win. This efficiency was continued on for the rest of the pre-season, as Jones threw 9/11 for 141 yards in a 25-23 win over the Bengals, and although he saw a diminished role in the final preseason game against New England as the Giants likely did not want to risk an injury to Jones, he managed to go 4/4 for 47 yards in a 31-29 win over the Patriots.
While the classic “it’s only the preseason” line may have been used by many Jones doubters, the numbers don’t lie; Jones’ combined stats ended up being 29/34 on completions, throwing for 416 yards and adding on two touchdowns. Furthermore, the Giants didn’t lose a preseason game in which Jones took the field at some point. Preseason or not, these numbers were good enough to erase the possibility of being a bust in many fan’s minds.
But Jones didn’t get the chance to make a name for himself until Week 3. After head coach Pat Shurmur gave the nod to veteran Eli Manning in Weeks 1 and 2, Giants fans only complaint on Daniel Jones may be not actually starting him earlier. While Eli played formidably against the Cowboys in the season opener going 30/44 with 306 yards and a TD, it was not enough to corral the Cowboys as Dallas took care of business easily by a final score of 35-17.
Eli’s play regressed further in a Week 2 loss to the Bills, going just 26/45 on completion attempts with two interceptions as well. After sliding to 0-2 at the hands of a 28-14 loss to Buffalo, Giants management decided it was time for a change at quarterback, dialing up Jones’ number as the starter for an important Week 3 clash on the road in Tampa Bay.
The Giants defense was on the ropes early, finding themselves down 12-3 by the end of the first quarter, behind two touchdown catches from Mike Evans, who had a monster day himself. However, Jones was determined to keep the Giants in the game even if he had to do things himself, rushing into the end zone for his first NFL touchdown, while also trimming the Giants deficit down to 12-10 with 9:58 to play in the half.
After the Bucs tacked on two more field goals to extend the lead to 18-10, it was time for Jones to go to work again; however, Jones showed that he is human after all, fumbling and losing possession of the football and, thus, getting the Bucs offense back on the field sooner than expected. Capitalizing off Jones’ fumble, Mike Evans made the Giants defense pay yet again, cashing in for his third touchdown of the half to give the Bucs a 25-10 lead. Getting the ball back once more before halftime, Jameis Winston drove down the field, setting up Bucs kicker Matt Gay to drill a 52 yard field goal to put Tampa Bay ahead 28-10 at the break. To add insult to injury, the Giants star running back Saquon Barkley exited the game with an ankle injury with 3:22 to go in the half.
Staring 0-3 in the face and without their best offensive player to start the second half, Jones and the Giants needed a spark to get back in the game; and that’s exactly what they got. On the first play of the second half, Jones hit tight end Evan Engram on a slant route, which Engram impressively turned upfield for a 75 yard touchdown. After the successful two-point conversion attempt, the Giants trimmed the Tampa lead to 28-18. After driving down the field a few possessions later to set up a third and goal, Jones found a streaking Sterling Shepherd and placed the ball between two Bucs defenders for six. The Giants now only trailed by 28-25.
After both defenses tightened up to end the third quarter and begin the fourth with trading sacks back and forth, the Giants defense finally stepped up to make a huge play, picking up their first interception of the season off Winston at 11:18 in the quarter to get the offense back on the field. However, Jones showed off his seemingly biggest flaw again: ball insecurity. After coughing it up via fumble, the Bucs defense recovered yet again at 10:30 in the fourth.
Capitalizing again off a Jones fumble, the Bucs tacked on a 23 yard field goal to bring their lead back up to 31-25 with 6:01 to play. After a pair of third down stops by both the Bucs and Giants defenses, the Giants took possession of the ball, needing to score with 2:50 to go in the game.
Starting the drive from their own 30 yard line, Jones would need to march the Giants 70 yards down the field to score and take the lead; and that’s exactly what he did. On a huge 4th and 5 from the five yard line with 1:21 to play, Jones dropped back in the pocket scanning his options. Jones saw something wide open; the middle of the field with no Giants or Bucs in sight. Keeping it himself, Jones rushed toward the end zone and found his way in for his second rushing touchdown of the game. Jones’ clutch read gave the Giants a 32-21 lead with just over a minute to play.
But the Bucs offense wasn’t done yet. Yet again, Mike Evans burned the Giants secondary for a 44 yard gain to put Tampa in a goal-line situation. With just four seconds to play on a forthcoming 34 yard attempt from a kicker who nailed a 52 yarder earlier in the game, the Giants seemed done for. But perhaps starting Jones not only gave the Giants the stats they needed to win the game; it may have also given them a little luck. Despite a perfect snap and a clean look at the uprights, Gay’s kick went wide right as the clock expired, sealing the Giants 32-31 victory.
From an unbiased standpoint, this game was truly a back and forth thriller, one that Jones will likely never forget. Jones’ final statline read 23/36 on completions, 336 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, and two rushing touchdowns. The only blemish on his resume were the two fumbles, but that is something that can be fixed with more practice and experience. It’s clear that Jones is cut out to be an NFL starter, and beyond the stats, Jones seems to possess the intangible clutch gene that is so difficult to come across.
When asked about his confidence level in a postgame interview, Jones responded “Just the love to compete, just to play. I think we did a good job as a team in preparing this week and we all felt comfortable and confident coming into the game with what we had prepared, so I think a large part comes from that.” It seems as though Jones will carry on this confidence as the Giants look to get to an even .500 next week against the divisional rival Washington Redskins as Jones makes his first start at home.
It may be early, but there is no doubt that Jones dazzled in his first start, and that is something that the entire Giants organization and fanbase can rally around. While this may not be the year to think about playoffs with the combination of Jones’ young career, tough divisional placement amongst the Cowboys and Eagles, the loss of Barkley for several weeks, and the fact that the defense is still weak, it is a step in the right direction. Enjoy this win and the rise of Daniel Jones, Giants fans.