Daniel Jones is saving jobs in New York

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — In winning his second NFL game in as many starts, New York Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones may have saved two jobs on Sunday, neither of which was his own.

That of the Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, who selected Jones, to great derision, with the sixth pick of the 2019 NFL draft, and of their head coach, Pat Shurmur, who rose through the NFL ranks on the basis of his reputation as a nurturer of young quarterbacks.

If Jones had crashed and burned out of the gate in relief of Eli Manning, he might have taken the two of them down with him.

Instead, in the space of eight days, Jones has made both of them look like geniuses. Gettleman for drafting him out of Duke, the school that furnished the Giants with Dave Brown, a previous generation’s misfire, and Shurmur for rolling the dice, a mere two games into the season, on Jones ahead of Eli Manning, the two-time Super Bowl conqueror of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

A week ago, Jones turned in a stellar performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a game the Giants were lucky to win.

On Sunday, he turned in a somewhat less-than-stellar performance against the Washington Redskins, a game the Giants found impossible to lose.

In both of them, Jones added dimensions to the Giants offense that had been lacking since Manning took over the quarterback job 15 seasons ago.

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Speed. Elusiveness. And the ability to make fast and proper decisions while under extreme duress.

Suddenly, a season that appeared over after the first two games is very much alive again after four.

“There certainly wasn’t any panic in this team or in this building at 0-2,” Jones said.

There also wasn’t very much hope, mainly because the fan base, and eventually, the coach and GM had lost confidence in the 38-year-old Manning.

Since his debut in 2004, Manning showed many attributes to be admired — durability, steadiness on and off the field and an uncanny knack for engineering fourth quarter game-winning drives. Plus, he had those two Super Bowl wins, and the MVP trophies to go with them, that no one could take away from him.

But even when he was young, Manning was a statue in the pocket and under pressure, often made poor and even disastrous decisions with the football.

At 22 years old and with just two full NFL games under his belt, Jones has nowhere near Manning’s portfolio.

But understand this — had Manning been the Giants quarterback in Sunday’s 24-3 victory over the truly dreadful Redskins, he might have been sacked a half-dozen times. It’s unlikely that even in his prime, Manning would have been able to execute the play-action, reverse pivot, rollout and touchdown pass to Wayne Gallman that the more athletic Jones did, seemingly effortlessly, on the Giants’ first possession of the game. And there’s no way he would have been able to shed the Washington pass rush and scramble for a first down on a third-and-13 as Jones did in the fourth quarter.

This is not to say that Jones is a better quarterback than Manning — there’s still a lot for him to prove before anyone will put forth that theory — but that he is a very different quarterback than Manning, consequently, the Giants are a much different offense with him on the field.

And there is little question Jones is the better quarterback for this team, at this time, in this league.

Statistically, Jones was not as good against Washington as he was against Tampa Bay. He threw interceptions on back-to-back possessions that, against even a decent offensive team, would have likely been very costly and perhaps fatal.

Operating in an offense minus its stud running back Saquon Barkley, and in a scheme that limited him to mostly short passes, Jones was more managing this game than winning it.

This was not the quarterback who dazzled Giants fans from afar in Week 3, throwing for 336 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for two more. His longest passing gain of the day, 31 yards, was on a dump-off to Evan Engram, who gained most of it on his own.

But the fact he had the presence of mind to check down to Engram when he found his primary targets covered downfield was especially impressive to Shurmur.

“Daniel’s smarter than all of us,” Shurmur said. “Not only is he a quick learner, but he’s a fast thinker and that goes into the decision-making process.”

And among Jones’ other attributes, add a dash of diplomacy.

“I think everyone’s going to have different styles, different strengths and weaknesses and I’m going to try to use that when I can,” he said, when asked if he thought his mobility made a major difference in the Giants’ offense. “I think different plays you have to get out of the pocket. I think that’s a useful tool for me.”

Shurmur also saw improvement in the way Jones, who had the ball tomahawked out of his hands in the pocket twice by the Buccaneers last week, avoided the same fate against the Redskins.

Daniel Jones passes against the Washington Redskins during their game at MetLife Stadium on September 29, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Getty Images)

“This week, I thought he did a good job of [stepping] up where that didn’t happen,” Shurmur said. “That would be one of his little tweaks that he did a good job on.”

To be sure, Jones and the Giants benefited greatly by the ineptitude of the 0-4 Redskins. Greeted by the MetLife crowd as if he were the Homecoming King, Jones was given the gift of a very short field for his first possession after Case Keenum’s pass was tipped at the line and intercepted by Giants linebacker Ryan Connelly less than a minute into the game, giving the Giants the ball at the Washington 32.

Eight plays later, the Giants were on the board courtesy of Jones’ six-yard pass to Gallman, who filled in creditably for Barkley, rushing for 63 yards on 18 carries.

On their next possession, Jones drove the Giants 94 yards, helped enormously by three Washington defensive holding penalties and a facemask that tacked 15 yards onto a 22-yard Gallman run. And despite the two interceptions, the second of which Jones threw badly behind Sterling Shepard, the Redskins offense was unable to capitalize for more than a field goal late in the second quarter.

They also were unable to pounce in the second half when first Jon Hilliman, and later, Gallman, coughed up the football while the score was still within reach. In fact, two plays after Hillman’s fumble, Giants safety Jabrill Peppers picked off Redskins rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., who had replaced an ineffective Case Keenum in the second quarter, and returned it 32 yards for the Giants’ final touchdown of the day.

But for the second week in a row, Daniel Jones succeeded in quieting those who doubted the judgment of Gettleman on draft day, or the abilities of Shurmur after the offensive disaster of his first 18 games as the Giants head coach.

He’s done it without facing a real test — the defensively stingy Minnesota Vikings come to Met Life next Sunday before his true trial by fire, a trip to Foxborough and a date with Brady and Belichick in a nationally televised Thursday night game.

But Jones is also smart enough to know how much he still doesn’t know.

“I still think I can do better on certain coverages, see the field better, get the ball out on time and make sure I get the ball to whoever’s the most open at the time,” Jones said. “I can’t turn the ball over the way I did today. There’s a number of things I can improve upon.”

One thing he can’t improve upon is his ability, in just two games, to give a team that looked hopeless even a glimpse of hope.

For that, Gettleman and Shurmur owe him thanks. And maybe even their jobs.

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