There have been glimmers along the way, moments when Daniel Jones looks as if he’s starting to figure this thing out — only to take a step backward and make the same mistakes that have tortured him in his NFL apprenticeship.
For the first month of the season, those mistakes have haunted him, with opposing teams seizing on them and rendering the Giants winless.
The losing continued Sunday, but not before Jones acquitted himself reasonably well — or at least better than he had.
Still, not quite good enough. In fact, just feet away from being good enough in a heartbreaking 37-34 loss to the Cowboys at the buzzer in Dallas.
Had Jones been able to complete a pass under pressure to Dion Lewis on third-and-10 from the Giants’ 39 in the final minute, perhaps we’d be talking about a potential breakthrough for the quarterback. Instead, the ball skittered out of Lewis’ reach and the Cowboys drove for the winning field goal as time expired.
"Third-down play, got to find someone and make a play," Jones said. "Tough situation. Ball is in our hands and we have to find a way to win."
A win and the Giants would have been a half-game out of first place in an awful NFC East. Instead, they fell to 0-5 on a day when Washington and Philadelphia both lost again.
Jones was good. But he wasn’t good enough.
There are no rewards for being close, not in a league in which bottom-line results are all that matters. So Jones must be content with perhaps taking a step forward, but not a decisive one. And with yet another brutal moment that impacted the final outcome, even if it didn’t come directly before the game was decided, he can’t take comfort in being almost there.
Make no mistake. He had his opportunity. With the game on the line and a chance to win it near the end, just as Eli Manning had done so often, including his winning moments in Dallas, Jones came up short.
Manning affixed his autograph on his locker after christening AT&T Stadium by beating the Cowboys in the first game played there in 2009. Jones didn’t earn that honor this time.
"We were confident there with the ball with the opportunity to go down and win the game," Jones said. "We felt like we moved the ball all game and executed on offense. We’ve got to do a better job."
He did show signs of improvement, although it came against one of the NFL’s worst defenses.
But the biggest bugaboo of this early part of his career — turnovers — surfaced again in a key spot. With the Giants holding a 17-10 lead late in the second quarter, on first-and-10 from their 37, Jones faded back to pass. But he didn’t feel the pressure from the blind side, where star pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence badly beat rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas.
Lawrence stripped the ball from Jones and Anthony Brown was there to scoop it up and score on a 29-yard return to make it 17-17. It was the 22nd fumble of Jones’ career.
Dallas went on to take a 24-17 lead on Dak Prescott’s touchdown reception off a trick play similar to the "Philly Special" the Eagles ran in their Super Bowl win over the Patriots. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, Prescott suffered a gruesome ankle injury later in the game and was replaced by longtime Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who was signed as a backup in the offseason.
Jones hung in there after his turnover, showing good poise in eventually restoring the Giants’ lead. He was solid on a field-goal drive on the first possession of the third quarter, although he couldn’t punch the ball in after the Giants got to the red zone.
Same thing on another field- goal drive later in the quarter to bring the Giants to within 31-26. Dalton coughed up a fumble on a botched snap deep in Cowboys territory in the fourth quarter at the Dallas 17, setting the stage for the Giants’ go-ahead score.
Jones hit Darius Slayton, who has quickly become his most trusted target, on a huge third-and-6 completion to get to the Dallas 4, and Devonta Freeman ran it in for the touchdown two plays later. Jones’ completion to Thomas, who was a tackle-eligible on the two-point conversion, gave the Giants a 34-31 lead.
Dallas tied it on its next possession, and after Jones foundered on a potential game-winning drive, sealed the emotional win with Greg Zuerlein’s field goal.
More misery for the Giants, who are still searching for their first win.
And more heartache for Jones, who is still searching for answers.