Rookie quarterback Daniel Jones showed Giants fan why they should be excited for the future with his winning debut in Tampa Bay on Sunday.
It was just one game. But with his 336-yard, four-total-touchdown day that ended with an epic fourth-quarter comeback and 32-31 win, the former Duke Blue Devil showed a little bit of everything, and provided more excitement than previous starter Eli Manning had in quite some time.
He ran for two scores, and passed for two more. He helped his team fight back from 18 points down at half-time – on the road. He rejuvenated the offense and managed to keep the team focused despite losing star running back Saquon Barkley to an ankle injury.
Jones came up big on Sunday, but it wasn’t a given his first start would win over the NFL world just quite like it did.
Before Jones even stepped on the field in the NFL, he had already experienced both the praise and criticism you would expect a starting quarterback to receive.
Leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft, Jones’ name was rarely mentioned at the top of mocks. His NFL.com draft profile said he was “more of a day two draft pick than day one”.
Giants’ general manager Dave Gettleman had other ideas, spending the sixth overall pick on a player who was not regarded as flawless as we would expect from a first-round pick, let alone a first-round quarterback.
His selection was met with criticism. It was a ‘reach’ and an ill-advised pick when the team could have moved back or even used their 17th overall pick on the 22-year-old, so the analysts said.
The move was especially confusing when Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur said that they wanted to follow the ‘Green Bay model’ with their quarterbacks, saying Jones could sit on the bench for three years as 38-year-old veteran Manning was announced as the starter before the season. Why use the pick on Jones with so many other holes?
Knowing Manning would be the No 1 indefinitely, it was hard for Giants fans to get too excited about their rookie, or for Jones to avoid the labels he had received.
Then the preseason came.
While Manning’s offense continued to stumble, Jones looked to be on fire. Yes, he played with backups, and against backups but he came through his first taste of NFL action completing 29 of 34 passes for 416 yards with two touchdowns and no picks.
There was more reason for hope, but the Giants’ brass stuck with their two-time Super Bowl winner Manning despite the offensive ineptitude in recent seasons.
After two straight losses to start this season, the three-year plan was thrown out the window. Enough was enough, and Manning was ultimately axed last week.
It was just one game, but Jones has already shown what the Giants have been missing by sticking with Manning for so long – and Gettleman must feel justified. It doesn’t matter where you pick a quarterback – if they turn out to be the face of the franchise, they were worth it.
As the seas parted on fourth-and-five with just one minute and 21 seconds left in Tampa Bay, Jones used his legs to race through the defense for the all-important go-ahead score with a play Manning likely couldn’t make.
Jones is by no means going to make a career with his wheels, but the added element of a potential scramble was something the Buccaneers D was not prepared for.
His legs won it, but his arm was fantastic too. The 336 passing yards came from 23 completions on 36 attempts. He tossed two touchdowns while two came on the ground. The Giants moved the ball when it mattered!
New York came down for an 18-point half-time deficit, and won the game despite Tampa’s 499 yards and last-second field goal attempt. Jones’ effort could have all been in vain, but instead the confidence the team and the rookie gained could turn their season around.
Jones told NBC’s Peter King after the game: “I saw grass” before he dashed into the empty end zone. Giants fans see a new star, and their team competing once again in the NFC East after eight years without a division title.
So, what’s next for Jones and the Giants after the early bar has been set? It’s a home debut for Jones next week, as New York host division rivals Washington. There’s a realistic chance the Giants will be .500 at the quarter stage of the season.