Last week, a one-sentence proclamation from Joe Judge made his position clear about the most important player on the Giants’ roster.
"Daniel Jones is our quarterback," Judge said when asked if he considers Jones his guy going into the 2021 season.
On Monday, a day after Jones put together a less-than-memorable performance in the Giants’ 27-13 loss to the Ravens, Judge delivered an unsolicited doubling down on last week’s assurances that he believes in his second-year quarterback.
Jones was 24-for-41 for 252 yards and threw his only touchdown pass with the game out of reach. He was sacked six times, a reflection of the continuing struggles of the team’s offensive line, but did not throw an interception or lose a fumble.
It was a modest afternoon by any standards. Truth be told, it’s hard to see right now that Jones — he of the nine touchdown passes in 13 starts — really is the answer. But there is no question in Judge’s mind that Jones has the right stuff moving forward.
"I really liked the way Daniel handled it [Sunday]," he said Monday in a Zoom conference call. "There were a lot of situations where Daniel knew there were going to be free runners [on blitzes]. We had some hot reads, some sight adjustments. You talk about what level we’ve improved, how we’ve seen throughout the year, there’s a lot of things that showed up in the tape yesterday with No. 8."
"You watch him from the start of the year through Sunday, and how he handled a lot of the situations with the pressure, ball security, decision-making, he did a lot of things that demonstrate a lot of growth," Judge said. "There’s a lot of things you [reporters] ask me, ‘What do you really look at with this team as you go forward?’ I’ll start with a key piece right here with Daniel."
Mind you, Judge was not asked directly about Jones on Monday as he had been last Wednesday, when he was questioned about his commitment to the quarterback heading into the offseason. But in the course of his review of Sunday’s loss, Judge dived into an unambiguous defense of Jones, whose statistics reveal modest production (at best) but whose improvement is unmistakable — at least to the coach.
"You always want to know, is Daniel our guy going forward? The answer is absolutely," Judge said. "What gives us that confidence? Even games that didn’t come out perfectly, you can turn on the tape and you can say, ‘Hey, listen, in games 1 through whatever, that wasn’t the guy we were looking at.’ You watch the tape [Sunday] and you see a guy operating and executing, understanding the pressure and not just standing in there and taking the hit, but understanding how to take the hit, deliver an accurate pass and move the sticks down the field."
What heartens Judge perhaps the most: Jones seemingly has overcome a turnover problem that plagued him through most of his rookie season and the first half of the 2020 season. Consider: He has gone five straight starts without throwing an interception and has lost just one fumble in his last six starts.
"These are things that, as he grows in the league and develops his craft, he’s going to be able to do,’’ Judge said, "and as we get more into the scheme, he’ll be able to handle it in different ways, as well as take some hits off him.
"Daniel played well. There are some plays he’d like to have back, some plays he’d like to do differently. That’s natural in any game. We’re going to coach him to eliminate those [negative] plays on the front end, but at the same time, there was a lot of growth from Daniel in terms of how he played the game and what he was able to do."
Jones has one more opportunity to redeem himself this season. If the Giants defeat the Cowboys on Sunday afternoon and the Eagles beat Washington on Sunday night, a 6-10 Giants team will host a playoff game.
On a day that Washington released second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins, a player many experts believed the Giants should have taken at No. 6 overall instead of Jones, Judge went to bat for his quarterback in a way that Ron Rivera only wishes he could have.
Instead, Rivera cut the cord with a chronically underachieving player who didn’t have the maturity to lead his team.
Judge, meanwhile, has seen enough evidence to make it clear about what he has: his quarterback of the future.
Even if it’s hard to believe right now that Jones really is the guy.