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Daniel Jones' baby steps have given Giants hope in a tight division race

Daniel Jones #8 of the Giants reacts as

Daniel Jones #8 of the Giants reacts as he runs the ball in for a touchdown during the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium on November 15, 2020. Credit: Getty Images/Elsa

The numbers aren’t exactly in the Patrick Mahomes stratosphere of quarterback play. Come to think of it, it's likely that no one will ever mistake Daniel Jones for the best quarterback in NFL history. Or even today's NFL.

But if what Jones has done the last two games is any indication of what he might do in the future, there is the possibility that his improvement is meaningful. Whether that translates to greatness is an issue that won’t be answered anytime soon, but he hopes the baby steps in recent weeks can further ignite the Giants’ playoff hopes.

Jones won back-to-back games for the second time in his two-year career, as the Giants got past Washington and Philadelphia to inject themselves into a division race in which all four teams have only three wins apiece.

It was as much what he didn’t do as what he did in those games that offered up a ray of hope. He didn’t turn the ball over. No interceptions and no fumbles gave the Giants a fighting chance, and they responded with two solid efforts. Jones had only one touchdown pass and one rushing touchdown combined in those games, but cutting down on a turnover problem that had plagued him weekly was huge.

Coach Joe Judge thinks the improvement is legit.

"I think Daniel has done a good job of really growing in this system," he said Wednesday as the Giants returned to practice for the first time since their bye week. "You can really see the team growing around him. This guy is an integral part. He’s the quarterback. We love putting him on the field Sunday and letting him go out there and compete."

Jones is heartened by the recent results

"As an offense, there are a number of things we did better," he said Wednesday. "We consistently moved the ball. I think we ran the ball at an extremely high level, and that kept us in front of the chains and enabled us to sustain drives. Obviously, protecting the ball was a big part of that as well."

In fact, how well Jones protects the ball very well may be the determining factor in whether the Giants — who will be playing meaningful games after Thanksgiving for the first time since 2016 — will win the watered-down NFC East or whether this will be a wait-till-next-year proposition for the 23-year-old quarterback and his young team.

"That gives us a much better opportunity to win when we do that," Jones said of the reduced turnovers and the enhanced running game. "We keep doing those things and then scoring touchdowns in the red zone. We’ve been more effective in that area as we’ve gone on this year. We’ll certainly look to continue to do those things for these last six games."

The first of those games is Sunday against the injury-ravaged Bengals, who will be without Joe Burrow for the remainder of the season after a devastating ACL tear he suffered against Washington. Jones will face a defense that also will be without one of its best players; pass rusher Carlos Dunlap forced his way out of town and now plays for the Seahawks.

But Jones knows this is no time for overconfidence, especially given his previous inability to avoid the costly fumble or interception. Or both.

"We do need to focus on what we’re doing this week," he said. "The [playoff possibility] only remains exciting, only remains an opportunity if we take care of business week-in and week-out. Our focus is on what we’re doing and preparing for Cincinnati this week."

As Bill Belichick famously said after a 41-14 Monday night loss to Kansas City early in the 2014 season . . . "We’re on to Cincinnati."

So are the Giants.

Jones will go into the game behind an improving offensive line that is dealing with the aftermath of assistant coach Marc Colombo’s firing. Though the line showed distinct improvement the past two games, Colombo’s unwillingness to work with newly hired assistant Dave DeGuglielmo led to a rare in-season ouster.

For Jones, it’s next man — and coach — up.

"I certainly have a ton of respect for Coach Colombo and who he is, as a man and as a coach, and enjoyed working with him," Jones said. "But we’re excited and moving forward as a team. I know those guys up front will keep playing hard and playing well."

If they do, and if Jones continues to play mistake-free football, it will give the Giants something that seemed quite unlikely after an 0-5 start: a shot at playing into January.

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