Daniel Jones has arrived at the moment when he must show that he’s capable of becoming the Giants’ answer at quarterback.
Forget the part about not having enough experience on the job. He is more than a year and a half into his career in a league in which rules changes have made it easier for quarterbacks than it’s ever been.
Joe Judge has shown faith in Jones through all the highs and lows this season, through the good moments when he has found Darius Slayton in the end zone and the bad ones when he has fumbled or intercepted his way into danger. Now it is time for Jones to reward that belief and stake his claim to the role of unquestioned team leader.
The Giants (2-7) will host the Eagles (3-4-1) on Sunday with a chance to pull closer to the leaders of an admittedly woeful NFC East race. If the Giants can show the kind of improvement they’ve flashed in spots this season during their final seven games, it’s certainly possible that they can turn the nightmare of an 0-5 start into an unlikely run at a playoff berth.
But it has to happen here, and it has to happen now.
If they can beat the Eagles, why not talk about making a run at a divisional title? But if they lose to Philly, it will be wait until next year. And it will be fair to wonder whether Jones has what it takes to be the guy for this team.
Jones knows what’s at stake here. He knows the Giants have a rare opportunity to turn a season that started off in nightmare fashion into one that will end with a more positive result. And he knows the bottom line.
"The goal every time we go out on the field is to win the football game," he said. "There’s no confusion about that. I certainly don’t have any other goals or expectations when I walk out on the field. I know our team feels that, I feel that. We’re doing everything we can to win and we’re confident every time we go out on the field."
Jones has won only five games in his career, and four of those have come against Washington. The other was against Tampa Bay in a smashing debut that gave rise to hope that he could carry the legacy of Eli Manning and provide more years of stability at quarterback.
He nearly vanquished the Eagles in Week 9, and if not for a defensive collapse that allowed Philadelphia to come back from an 11-point deficit, it might be the Giants in first place right now.
Jones did just enough to win that game, but it didn’t happen. There’s another chance now. He needs to seize the moment.
RIP, Paul Hornung
Paul Hornung had one of the greatest football lives ever.
A star quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame and then a brilliant halfback who helped transform Green Bay into Titletown, "The Golden Boy" lived and played with a charisma rarely seen in sports.
Hornung died Friday in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. He was 84.
Legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi called Hornung "the greatest player I ever coached," and by the time Hornung left Green Bay after the 1966 season, the Packers had won four championships, including Super Bowl I (although he didn’t play in that game because of an injury).
Lombardi helped Hornung flourish by playing him at halfback after the coach got to Green Bay in 1959. The primary runner for Lombardi’s famous "power sweep," Hornung was the perfect player for the coach’s offense.
He missed the 1963 season after being suspended for gambling on NFL games but returned in 1964.
Hornung was a flamboyant presence on and off the field, and he had an infectious charm throughout his life. His unforgettable quote that came later in life resonates upon his passing.
"I always said my epitaph will be Paul Hornung went through life on a scholarship," he said. "I’m going to the ash pit. I’m going to put a third of the ashes at Notre Dame Stadium, a third of the ashes at Lambeau Field and a third of the ashes at Churchill Downs. Half my net worth’s out there anyway, so I should at least acknowledge a spot that I’ve been to as much as my house."
Rest in peace, sir.
Awards at halfway mark
We have reached the midway point of the most unusual season in NFL history, a season defined by circumstances never before imagined.
Playing football amid a pandemic has been a herculean challenge for the century-old league, yet somehow, some way, the complete schedule through Week 9 has been played. Whether the entirety of the second half of the season and the playoffs will be concluded remains to be seen, but the NFL is intent on getting to Super Bowl LV in Tampa on Feb. 7 — even in the face of rising COVID-19 cases around the country.
Here’s a look back at the best of what’s happened:
MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City: Nine games, 25 touchdown passes and one interception? One? You look at that stat and think it’s a typo, and then you realize that no, it’s just Mahomes having another brilliant season and further mastering the art of playing quarterback. He and Andy Reid make the perfect quarterback-coach combo, and we see why every week. Incredible.
Coach of the year: Brian Flores, Dolphins. He started 0-7 in his first season in 2019 but never wavered from the convictions that are at the heart of Miami’s 5-3 record. Flores went against conventional wisdom in the timing of his move to elevate Tua Tagovailoa when Ryan Fitzpatrick was playing some of his best football, but it was the correct choice. Tagovailoa is the Dolphins’ future, and Flores now has the chance to build a contending team for years to come.
Comeback player of the year: Alex Smith, Washington. Based on football terms alone, it’s Ben Roethlisberger, who has returned from elbow surgery to lead the only unbeaten team at the halfway mark. But in human terms, it’s Smith, by a mile. He could have left the sport after a gruesome ankle injury in 2018 that nearly cost him his life, but he overcame incredible odds to live out his dream and return.
Offensive player of the year: Mahomes. Aaron Rodgers certainly is a contender with 24 touchdown passes and two interceptions in helping the Packers to a 6-2 record. Russell Wilson has 28 touchdown passes in Seattle’s 6-2 start, although he has thrown five interceptions in his last three games.
Defensive player of the year: Aaron Donald, Rams. Plenty of good choices here, with the Browns’ Myles Garrett flourishing as a magnificent all-around defender and the Cardinals’ Budda Baker maturing into the NFL’s best safety. But Donald remains the premier defensive player, someone offensive coordinators must continually account for. With nine sacks, Donald is on his way to a fourth straight year with double-digit sacks.
Offensive rookie of the year: Justin Herbert, Chargers. Joe Burrow has done wonders to make the Bengals relevant, but Herbert’s ascent is impressive. With 17 touchdown passes and five interceptions on a team whose defense finds new heartbreaking ways to lose games, it’s Herbert who provides hope for the future.
Defensive rookie of the year: Patrick Queen, Ravens. A late first-round pick, Queen has turned into a tackling machine and a worthy linebacker to carry on the Ray Lewis tradition in Baltimore.
Giants MVP: James Bradberry, CB. Dave Gettleman hit on this free-agent signing, as the former Panthers cornerback has brought stability to the secondary with some terrific coverage. Making his job easier is the solid play of safeties Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan.
Jets MVP: Mekhi Becton, T. The rookie left tackle looks as if he can play the position for a dozen years. He has been hampered by injuries to his shoulder and chest, but in the time he has played, he looks to have justified the faith general manager Joe Douglas placed in him.
Tate sees the light
Good for Golden Tate, who’s moving on with the right attitude after apologizing to his Giants teammates for making it about him.
It’s not easy for a 32-year-old receiver who knows what it’s like to win a Super Bowl to play for a losing team. But with some tough love from Judge, who benched Tate for last Sunday’s game against Washington after Tate complained about his lack of targets during a Monday night loss to the Bucs, the receiver seems refreshed and ready to go.
"I was definitely disappointed, but there are consequences for your actions," Tate told reporters Friday. "My actions were unacceptable, and I apologized to the team, the GM, the coaches, the offense. I’m excited to move forward."
With an $8 million salary in 2021, Tate might not be around next season for a rebuilding team that is relying more on younger players. But with seven games left and an outside shot at a playoff spot, there’s still time for him to make an impact.
"I want to be here," he said. "I love this organization, what it represents, and the direction we’re headed in. Hopefully I’m a part of it."
Texans’ surprising firing
The Texans are dealing with the fallout of firing highly respected public relations director Amy Palcic, who was let go because she was not considered "a cultural fit." Palcic was the only woman to run a public relations department in the NFL, and she and her staff were honored with the 2017 Rozelle Award for the best public relations staff. The award is given annually by the Professional Football Writers of America.
The move came as a shock, with Palcic calling it "arguably the most humiliating day of my life." But she received support from around the country — and around the Texans’ locker room — and expressed gratitude for the outpouring.
"First and only woman to be head of PR for an NFL team and winner of the Rozelle Award for best PR Staff in the NFL," All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt tweeted. "Massive help in my hurricane relief efforts, community events and much more. Whoever picks up @amypalcic will be getting one of the absolute best in the business."
Palcic also arranged to have quarterback Deshaun Watson’s family members appear as surprise guests on a Zoom call announcing Watson’s agreement on a four-year, $160 million contract extension. Watson wept on the call as he expressed appreciation for his family’s encouragement.
The Texans paid a heavy price in the court of public opinion and also might pay a financial price for Palcic’s firing. She has retained Houston attorney Joseph Ahmad.