It is the ultimate measure of a quarterback.
It is more than the physical ability. More than arm strength. More than intellectual processing of the most complicated sport on Earth. More than all of that.
It is what you do with the game on the line, when your teammates are counting on you to figure out a way to win. It goes beyond training, beyond talent, beyond all the preparation.
It is the moment when you find out you have it.
Or you don’t.
For Daniel Jones, that moment came late Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field.
He already had produced a masterful individual performance with four touchdown passes to stake the Giants to a 35-21 lead. After special teams failures and a defensive collapse made it 35-35 and forced overtime, Jones was on the spot.
There was no fear, only anticipation.
“You see it as a huge opportunity for the team,” the rookie quarterback said. “For everyone on the team, I think you see it as a huge opportunity and you’re excited for that. That’s what you look forward to. That’s what you play for, is an opportunity to do that, to go down and win the game.”
He did just that.
Starting at the Giants’ 34-yard line on the first possession of overtime, Jones walked into the huddle and responded with a big-time drive to win it. A few minutes after throwing a clutch third-down pass to Sterling Shepard to keep the drive alive, Jones won it with a third-down touchdown pass to seldom-used tight end Kaden Smith.
Giants win, 41-35.
One more moment to believe that the Giants may have found a capable successor to Eli Manning, who just last week was feted during what likely was the final time he’ll be under center for the team he had led since 2004.
“He’s a dog, he has that mentality,” running back Saquon Barkley said of Jones. “When [the Redskins] score [to tie it in regulation], I was like, ‘I’m calling heads [on the overtime coin toss], we get the rock. He said, ‘Let’s go win the game.’ That’s the mindset he has. That’s just the person he is.”
Game on the line.
It’s all that matters.
Now look, this wasn’t the Super Bowl. It wasn’t even a game that had playoff ramifications, so we’ll keep this in perspective. This was the Redskins, after all, a team with myriad problems, but one that clearly has not quit despite the circumstances.
These nevertheless are important moments, especially for a young quarterback who already has shown plenty of improvement since the day he was drafted.
Former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi used to say that the only thing that really mattered about a quarterback was whether you believed he could take his team late in the fourth quarter to win the Super Bowl. Accorsi saw the quarterback he drafted do just that — twice — when Manning beat the Patriots after the 2007 and 2011 seasons.
It’s too soon to know if Jones can do the same for the man who drafted him, because the Giants are far, far away from contending for a championship. Even so, Dave Gettleman was beaming as he sat in the second row of the press box and watched Jones deliver a much-needed win for his young team.
“He played heroic,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “He made some great throws. That third-and-long [to Shepard] in overtime was really good.”
How much better is Jones now than when he joined the Giants?
“Light years,” Shurmur said. “He’s only going to get better, because he’s a very talented guy that works hard.”
There is work to be done, though. Jones, who’d had at least one turnover in all 10 of his previous starts, fumbled again Sunday, although this one was recovered by guard Kevin Zeitler.
“The thing I got most upset about was when he scrambled and fumbled,” Shurmur said. “He’s spinning like a running back. Don’t do that. I’ll holler at him for that.”
Then again . . .
“Five touchdowns and certainly the touchdown throw in overtime,” Shurmur quickly remembered. “Ah, maybe I won’t holler at him. I’ll just talk to him.”
Barkley believes that Jones eventually will become “one of the best quarterbacks in the league.”
Golden Tate has been around a number of quality quarterbacks in his career, and he sees no limitations for Jones.
“I 100 percent believe in DJ,” Tate said. “It gets you excited to see what he’s going to do next. The guy’s fearless. I see DJ being great. If anyone stops DJ, it’s going to be DJ, and I don’t see that happening. His will to be great is there.”
And his will in the big moment, well, that’s all that really mattered.
“The dude is going to be something special,” Shepard said. “We’ve been saying that since the beginning of the season, and he showed that today.”