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Daniel Jones’s Legend-Making Debut Shows We All Know Nothing

Playing without Saquon Barkley for much of Sunday, the oft-derided Giants rookie made plays with his arms and legs for a dramatic victory over the Buccaneers

NFL: New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The late, legendary Hollywood movie screenwriter William Goldman once said that after decades in the movie industry his enduring lesson was that “nobody knows anything.”

“Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work,” Goldman wrote in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade. “Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”

This axiom applies to many other industries, but perhaps none better than professional football. We got the latest reminder of that on Sunday. Daniel Jones, the Giants’ no. 6 pick in this year’s draft and one of the most controversial and derided draft choices this decade, came in for his first career start and immediately looked like what many said he was not: an NFL quarterback. Daniel Jones (a.k.a. Swag, a.k.a. Danny Dimes, a.k.a. a secret Manning family cloning project) overcame a pathetic Giants defensive performance plus an ankle injury to superstar running back Saquon Barkley to score a game-winning touchdown on the road for New York’s first win of the season, 32-31 over Tampa Bay. Jones had 336 passing yards and four combined touchdowns in his debut. Who has two thumbs and looks like the best rookie quarterback in the NFL?

Jones ignited New York’s offense almost immediately. On his first drive, he converted the Giants’ first third-and-long of the season. On the Giants’ second drive, he repeatedly made things happen by extending plays from the pocket and then ran in a 7-yard touchdown on second-and-goal, which made the game 12-10 Tampa Bay.

That rushing touchdown came on New York’s 22nd play. Eli Manning did not have a rushing TD until his 22nd career game. Jones was touted as a mobile quarterback during the draft process and this summer, but it wasn’t clear how fast he was until Sunday.

Giants GM Dave Gettleman said he drafted Jones because he could play from the pocket, and on the first play of the second half Jones found Evan Engram for a 12-yard catch in stride that Engram took all the way to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown.

But it wasn’t just Jones’s teammates creating plays. Rather than kick the extra point, Jones made a great throw to receiver Sterling Shepard in the end zone for the two-point conversion to make the game 28-18 Buccaneers. Jones escaped Tampa Bay’s pass rushers and made plays throughout the game, like this 46-yard pass to receiver Darius Slayton on the drive after Engram’s score.

Just a few plays later, Jones found receiver Shepard for the exact kind of throw Manning has not been capable of in the past few years.

But Jones’s masterpiece came in the fourth quarter, when the Giants were down 31-25 and playing without Barkley. On New York’s final drive, Jones had completions of 21 and 36 yards and then got the Giants to a fourth-and-5 at Tampa Bay’s 7-yard line with 76 seconds left. And then he did this.

It’s the most legend-making jog since Rocky. After the kickoff, the Buccaneers drove down to attempt a game-winning 34-yard field goal, but kicker Matt Gay missed it wide right (a favorite direction for Giants fans). Jones’s 336 passing yards are the most by a quarterback in his debut in franchise history, and his 34.2 fantasy points are the second most ever by a rookie quarterback in their first start. Amazingly there is reason to believe he can get better. The Giants offense is hampered without Barkley, the suspended receiver Golden Tate, and injured receiver Cody Latimer. When the talent around Jones improves and he gains a feel for pass pressure, he could produce games like this often, and he may need to. The Giants have the most inept defense in football this side of the Miami Dolphins. Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans shredded cornerback Janoris Jenkins, New York’s highest-paid cornerback, and scored three first-half touchdowns. Big Blue doesn’t have a blue-chip defender.

Saquon’s ankle injury is reportedly a high ankle sprain, which could keep him out for one to two months. He will undergo an MRI on Monday, and the Giants would be wise to hold him out until he is 100 percent healthy. Saquon’s injury is a dark cloud hanging over Jones’s performance, but if Saquon didn’t let his injury stop him from enjoying Jones’s day, we can’t either.

Even with Barkley’s injury, Giants fans will look back on Sunday with pride, not sadness. Jones is just the second person not named Eli Manning to start at quarterback for the Giants in 15 years, and he made Giants fans excited for the next 15. Heading into Sunday, nobody would have believed that the most hopeful game for the Giants franchise in years came when Barkley ended the game on crutches. Nobody would have believed that Jones could immediately step in for Barkley as the heartbeat of the franchise. Then again, nobody knows anything.