It is the statistic that separates the good quarterbacks from the great ones.
Forget about how many throws he completes, how many yards he compiles, how many touchdowns he produces. It’s what happens when the game is on the line that is the true test of how valuable he is.
Only the best of the best reside at the top of the list of fourth-quarter comebacks: Peyton Manning with 43. Tom Brady at 37. Drew Brees with 36. Johnny Unitas at 34. Dan Marino at 33. Ben Roethlisberger at 32. John Elway with 31. Hall of Famers or soon-to-be Hall of Famers one and all.
Daniel Jones may never be mentioned in the same breath as any of those legendary passers. But if the Giants’ second-year quarterback is to find his way in the NFL and produce a career worthy of his status as the sixth overall pick in 2019, then the fourth quarter is where he must make his mark.
And so far, Jones leaves much to be desired.
Heading into Thursday night’s game against the Eagles, Jones has just one fourth-quarter comeback to his credit, to go with one game-winning drive. And that comeback was in his very first start in Week 3 last year against the Buccaneers, when he began his career as a starter in spectacular fashion. He led the Giants to a 32-31 win with a dramatic second-half comeback, finishing with two touchdown passes and the eventual game-winning rushing touchdown.
He also produced the winning points in a 41-35 overtime victory over Washington last season, hitting tight end Kaden Smith for a 3-yard touchdown pass in the extra session.
And that’s it.
Jones’ career so far has been defined more by what he hasn’t done than by what he has. The turnovers continue to be a problem; there was another brutal one in last Sunday’s 20-19 win over Washington, when he nearly blew the game with an interception in the end zone on a pass he was trying to throw away. Jones went into Thursday night’s game with just three touchdown passes and six interceptions, a major disappointment after a rookie season that showed promise with 24 touchdown passes and 12 picks.
Jones had a huge fumbling problem that marred last season — he had a league-high 18 fumbles — and while he has limited the problem at least somewhat this year, he had four in his first six games.
The problems haven’t been all on Jones, of course. His offensive line remains a work in progress after a 2019 season in which the blocking was even more suspect. He’s had a rotating cast of receivers, although he got Sterling Shepard (turf toe) back for the Eagles game. It was a welcome return for Shepard, but especially for Jones.
"He’s obviously a special player and can do a lot of different things," Jones said of Shepard. "Regardless of who’s out there, it’s up to us to execute."
It’s especially up to Jones to execute. And to this point, the results just haven’t been there on a consistent basis. Only when he can begin to measure up by showing clutch play in the fourth quarter will he prove that the Giants made the right call drafting him so high last year. Jones’ predecessor, Eli Manning, had his share of regular-season struggles, especially later in his career when the talent around him dropped off. But Manning showed on a regular basis that he could get it done in the fourth quarter. He finished with 27 comebacks, tied for 14th overall and one more than the great Joe Montana.
Jones knows he’ll always have Manning as the standard against whom he’s measured, and he accepts that responsibility, which has certainly been burdensome through his first 18 starts. He went up against an Eagles defense dealing with an assortment of injuries, but Jones was careful not to look any further than his own team to determine how things would unfold.
"We take the approach to focus on ourselves first," he said. "Focus on preparing to play well as a team, as an offense and taking care of our business first."
Easier said than done. The Eagles have had the Giants’ number for years, winning 11 of the last 12 games, including seven straight. With the Eagles coming into Thursday’s game at 1-4-1 and the Giants 1-5, even in a division as weak as this year’s NFC East, it was a game with huge implications.
Regardless of the outcome, it will remain a wide-open race, with Dallas at just two wins and Washington with one. But if the Giants are to make a move at some point, then Jones will have to raise his game over the long haul.
"We’re doing what we can to execute as an offense and move the ball as a team," he said. "I think that’s the important thing. That’s where our focus is, is making sure every time we touch the ball, we’re moving it and scoring points and finishing with touchdowns."
He’ll need a lot more touchdowns, especially with the game on the line, to secure his reputation.