Keidel: Daniel Jones Proves He's No Eli Clone In Debut

Rookie QB Does Things In Win That Manning Can't

Jason Keidel
September 23, 2019 - 10:57 am
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Mike Evans left cleat marks all over the Giants, their coaches and their ancestors. The Giants’ defense hemorrhaged nearly 500 yards. Bruce Arians made a scalp-scratching call before their last play. And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers merely had to make a Pop Warner field goal to win Sunday's game. 

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But the Giants, through equal parts skill and serendipity, walked away from Florida with their first win of the 2019 season. But beyond the stats and the 1-2 record that could easily be 0-3 today, the Giants' quarterback situation is settled for the season. 

The Giants scored more points in their third game (a 32-31 win) than they did in their first two games combined (31). Maybe the Buccaneers aren't nearly as good as the Cowboys or Bills. But perception, plus a one-point win, is pretty close to bedrock reality in the NFL. Don Shula told us the only stat that matters is that win column. So the Giants not only posted a crooked number on the left side of their record, they avoided the funereal fate of teams that begin an NFL season 0-3. And they played with a grit that didn't exist seven days earlier. 

You can call out the wrong film for best picture at the Oscars. You can lose to a team for 59 minutes. You can be ugly for nearly four quarters. But the bold ink, and the starting jobs, go to the ones who win. Eli Manning, for all his historical vitality and myriad tales of Super Bowl glory, is 0-2 this year. And Daniel Jones is 1-0. 

Giants quarterback Daniel Jones throws the ball against the Buccaneers on Sept. 22, 2019, in Tampa, Florida.
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Jones had a fine statistical day, completing 23 of 36 passes for 336 yards with two touchdowns through the air and two more on the ground. It was the most passing yards for any NFL QB making his first start on the road. Not even Patrick Mahomes, the wunderkind and MVP of the NFL, set that mark. But it was not a number that arched an eyebrow for anyone watching the game Sunday. 

After two atrocious games, the Giants played like a real football team. Jones gave the Giants a spiked sense of self, greater energy and urgency. They rose from their self-made mausoleum, climbed out from a 28-10 hole and beat the Bucs on their turf. 

And while Arians inexplicably took that penalty and Evans — who went Old Testament on the G-Men with eight catches for 190 yards and three touchdowns — can lament a loss that should not be, the Giants won't apologize for a road win in the NFL, or the truth that Jones gave Big Blue a big bump. 

If you needed proof, a play or an epiphany, it came on the Giants' final touchdown, as the last minute melted from the clock. On fourth down from Tampa's 7-yard line, Jones took the snap and scanned the short field for a quick throw, then saw the field fan open and dashed down the middle for an uncontested score. 

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There's more to playing quarterback than an improvised QB draw. But Jones showed the energy, strength and potential that Eli just can't give anymore. So it's fitting that the issue was settled with Jones using his legs, not his arm, to win a job that has not been open since 2004. Even if Manning has a few TDs left in that right arm, he can't gallop for first downs or touchdowns. He can't play like Jones just did. 

It was impossible not to notice the two QBs slapping hands and bumping shoulders in the seconds after the game. More than congrats were offered. You won’t find a more HD instance of a baton being passed than with the glee in Jones' face and muted gloom in Manning's soft-serve kudos to his successor. 

That's the beauty and savagery of the NFL — its strobe-lighted future for the young and its frigid intolerance for the old. While we marvel at Tom Brady's Teflon in the face of his 40s, hundreds of post-30 players are being swept into the caves of retirement. There won’t be a more graphic example of the league’s jungle ethic than watching the elder Eli mutter "good job" to Jones, and then move on to middle age.   

We still don't know if Jones is the Man, the one to lead the Giants back to those fine, frostbitten playoff games that made Eli a legend. But he's next. That's good enough for the Giants, and fretful enough for the man who had Jones' job for the last 15 years. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel.