The best way to illustrate the unofficial beginning of Daniel Jones’ career with the Giants is to compare the rookie quarterback’s one and only drive of Thursday night’s preseason opener to that of Sam Darnold, who started for the opposing Jets. In the opening series of the game, Darnold completed four of five passes for 68 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating was a perfect 158.3.
And yet, Jones was better.
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Jones also managed a perfect QB rating on his drive, but he did not miss a throw. The 22-year-old completed all five of his passes for 67 yards and a touchdown on what was his team’s second possession after Eli Manning started and the Giants’ offense went three-and-out earlier in the first quarter.
After an hour-long weather delay on the heels of Jones’ TD drive, the game resumed with the rookie passer parked on the sideline for the night. It signaled the accomplishment of Jones’ first NFL mission.
We’ll spare you the overreaction to a single drive in a Week 1 preseason game. This is not sudden validation for Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, who selected Jones with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. For now, Manning is safe as the starter. This is nothing more than a step for Jones in his NFL development.
But it’s not insignificant. Jones did everything he needed to do and more Thursday. His performance was something of a dare. Go ahead, keep doubting me.
In the preseason, which is defined by basic schemes and random mixtures of first-, second- and third-team offenses and defenses, we can’t draw real conclusions about any QB’s play. It’s also worth noting that Jones faced a grand total of zero pressure while slinging the ball around with ease.
But we can at least reference the realistic goals for Jones cited by ESPN Giants reporter Jordan Raanan hours before kickoff.
“1. Move the offense and score points.” That’s a big check. With Jones at QB, the Giants needed only eight plays and 4:23 to get into the end zone.
“2. Execute consistently.” Another big check. All five of Jones’ passes were thrown perfectly.
“3. No negative plays (take care of the ball).” The only negative play on Jones’ drive was Wayne Gallman’s three-yard loss on a run up the middle.
More impressive than Jones checking off those objectives, though, was the way in which he did it.
He showed timing with his throw on a slant pattern to Golden Tate. He showed his ability to read coverage when he found Cody Latimer slipping behind the Jets’ zone defense. He showed arm strength when he roped a pass to Bennie Fowler on an out route. He showed all of the above, plus some touch, when he hit Fowler for the 12-yard touchdown.
“I think he did an unbelievable job, understanding the offense, reading the defense, putting the ball where it needed to be,” said Giants running back Saquon Barkey, who did not play Thursday, of Jones.
These kinds of attributes are vital for a quarterback to succeed in the NFL, and they make themselves evident (or not) even in an otherwise meaningless preseason game.
Jones’ numbers on his lone drive were great, but they don’t mean anything. His poise and apparent comfort at this stage of his career, on the other hand, were telling.
We’re months away from finding out whether Jones is worthy of his status as a top-10 pick, but it took only five throws for many to realize he is not the joke they thought he was.