New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones runs seven yards for a second-half touchdown Sunday against the Buccaneers in Tampa, Florida. AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio

Daniel Jones walked into the New York Giants’ huddle late Sunday evening with no timeouts remaining and no stirring speech to give. His teammates had yet to see him rattled by anything – not the boos on draft night, not months of talk radio vitriol, not playing in the shadow of a New York football legend. Now he trailed by six with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and when they looked at him they saw the same steadiness, a quarterback in full control.

“Get it done,” Jones said. And then he called the play.

For months, Jones existed as an object of mockery and a symbol of supposed organizational incompetence. On Sunday afternoon, in a 32-31 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he revealed himself to be the fluorescent future of the New York Giants. In his NFL debut, Jones passed for 336 yards, threw two touchdown passes, ran for two more scores, led a game-winning touchdown drive and, give or take depending on the accuracy of the latest New York City census, converted about 8.5 million skeptics.

Last weekend, Jones was Eli Manning’s backup and a source of blurry optimism for a proud franchise suddenly losing its way. Now he is the both the Giants’ exciting present and unbridled hope for the future. The Giants’ roster remains in decay, as the performance of their defense suggested. But they have Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram and Jones, and suddenly that looks like the basis of something real.

It’s only one game, sure. But did you see that game? Jones stepped in for Manning, benched after having started 223 of 224 regular season games over 15 years while winning two Super Bowls along the way. The Giants, 0-2 to start the day, trailed by 18 at halftime. Jones lost Barkley, the engine of the Giants’ offense, to a gruesome ankle injury late in the second quarter. Jones was sacked five times and lost two fumbles.

“He could have easily shut it down and got discouraged,” Engram said over the phone from Tampa, just before boarding the team bus. “He played it cool.”


Jones dragged the Giants to a victory. He hit tight end Engram for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half. He dropped a gorgeous touchdown pass from a crowded pocket to Sterling Shepard, chased by two defenders. Trailing by six with 3:16 remaining, Jones marched the Giants downfield. He faced fourth and five at the 7, dropped back, saw the middle of the field clear and darted into the end zone for what would prove to be the winning score.

No rookie in NFL history – let alone one making his first start on the road, in place of a quarterback who had won two Super Bowls – had ever thrown for at least 300 yards while both rushing and passing for multiple touchdowns.

When the Giants drafted Jones sixth overall in April, both franchise and quarterback became targets of social media derision and tabloid ridicule. The New York Post chose “Blue’s Clueless” for its back cover the next morning, splashed under a photo of Jones in a Duke uniform. NFL evaluators had a more positive view of Jones than media and fans, but public opinion took hold and built on itself. It became an accepted and easy stance that General Manager Dave Gettleman was a dope and Jones was a bust waiting to happen.

“Oh, man, it honestly didn’t faze him at all,” Engram said. “It was bad on draft night. I knew it wouldn’t bother him or hinder him. But I knew it would put something in his tank and motivate him. He’s a great guy. He was prepared for the moment.”

Preparing for the moment – that was the theme of the NFL week. Eight teams started a different quarterback in Week 3 than they started in Week 1, or planned on starting late in training camp. Those eight quarterbacks – Jacoby Brissett, Kyle Allen, Teddy Bridgewater, Mason Rudolph, Josh Rosen, Luke Falk, Gardner Minshew II and Jones – went 5-3 despite seven of their games coming on the road. One of the losers, Rudolph, put the Pittsburgh Steelers in position to win late in the fourth quarter.

Jones was not a typical backup. The Giants drafted him with the clear plan he would replace Manning. That it happened after two games showed both how ineffective Manning was and how quickly Jones had developed. His mobility ultimately won the Giants the game, but all game long it made New York’s offense more dynamic and opened up Giants Coach Pat Shurmur’s playbook.


“He took a couple sacks, the fumbles, some of that loose stuff, we can work on that,” Shurmur said. “There’s drills for that. But the stuff that he did in the game, there’s not drills for that. We believed in him from the day we drafted him. And first time out, he didn’t disappoint.”

Jones’ performance in preseason, when he completed 29 of 34 attempts for 416 yards and two touchdowns, reduced the volume of criticism directed at Jones. His promising first half Sunday validated Jones’ preseason, and the second half eliminated any lingering doubt.

In the Giants’ locker room, Shurmur told the offense his plan for the first snap of the third quarter. The Bucs would be expecting the Giants to run the ball to protect their rookie. Instead, the Giants would run play-action. The scheme put Engram on a linebacker, and Engram torched him over the middle, turned and ran for a 75-yard touchdown.

“He was definitely in a groove,” Engram said. “He definitely is communicating. He just stays efficient, stayed cool. He had a swagger to him in the huddle.”

That swagger had been missing from the Giants. It may have been just one game, but the Giants know it will stay there for a long time to come.

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