By Dennis Waszak Jr.
Daniel Jones’ future with the New York Giants was murky heading into this season with plenty of critics wondering if he could truly ever be a franchise-type quarterback.
Too many turnovers. Too inconsistent. Too few victories.
Jones heard it all, and some was warranted. The Giants not exercising the fifth-year option on his rookie deal last offseason spoke volumes, too. But he has silenced most of the naysayers with a solid season and a history-making postseason debut, leading the Giants to their first playoff win in 11 years.
“Yeah, I don’t think I’ve spent a whole lot of time thinking about that,” Jones said Tuesday as he and the Giants prepare for their divisional round playoff matchup Saturday night with the NFC East-rival Philadelphia Eagles.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned,” Jones added, “it’s about what you do the next week, so I’m focused on that and continuing to try to improve and play as well as I can on Saturday.”
Jones, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 draft out of Duke, threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 78 yards in New York’s 31-24 victory over Minnesota last Sunday. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to have 300 yards passing, two TD passes and at least 70 yards rushing in a playoff game.
“D.J. was amazing, did everything we asked him to do,” left tackle Andrew Thomas said. “When there was nothing open, (he was) scrambling and made plays for us, didn’t turn over the ball.
“When he plays like that, we have a good opportunity to win against anybody.”
It was the latest terrific performance for Jones in a season full of them.
The 25-year-old quarterback’s combination of throwing and running has turned him into an exciting playmaker — one of the most dynamic in the league at his position. And he has come a long way from the game manager label he was being saddled with, particularly earlier this season with his passing numbers unimpressive.
But then the plays and yards starting coming, along with the wins.
And the turnovers stayed way down, with 15 touchdown passes and a career-low five interceptions during the regular season. Jones also lost just three fumbles, a far cry from his 11 lost fumbles as a rookie.
“My focus is just trying to help him be the best he can be,” coach Brian Daboll said. “He’s done everything that he can do since I’ve been here. A great guy to work with. He works extremely hard, and I think that’s where our focus is.”
Even if others outside the Giants facility are casting Jones in a new light — on and off the field — as a quarterback who can carry a team, and perhaps an entire franchise.
“Yeah, you hear some of it, for sure, and notice some of it,” Jones said. “It’s part of it. I can’t control how people respond, positively or negatively. I control how I play and that’s my focus.”
The Giants will face the Eagles for the third time this season, with Philadelphia winning the first two meetings. Jones was 18 of 27 for 169 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for a score in New York’s 48-22 loss at home on Dec. 11. Jones and most of the Giants’ starters were held out of the regular-season finale, a 22-16 loss at Philly.
Still, Jones’ improvement this season is clear to Eagles coach Nick Sirianni.
“Daniel Jones is dangerous in the pocket and when he gets out of the pocket, he’s playing really good football,” Sirianni said. “He’s continuing to get better.”
When the Giants declined Jones’ fifth-year option, it was a clear message the new regime — Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen — needed to see proof the quarterback could elevate his play and be a difference-maker.
Jones has done that, and then some.
He has nine touchdowns — six passing and three running — and just one turnover in his past five games. He’s due to be a free agent in the offseason and could certainly be attractive to plenty of quarterback-needy squads.
Many predicted the Giants would likely be one of those teams shopping for a new QB during the offseason. But it appears they have the guy they were hoping Jones would be all along.
“I know we have an elite quarterback,” running back Saquon Barkley said after the win over the Vikings. “He’s shown that multiple times.”
Top photo: New York Giants’ Daniel Jones throws during the first half of an NFL wild card football game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)