You want to earn Joe Judge’s respect? It’s simple. And it has much less to do with football skill than it does with your mind. And your heart.
Daniel Jones has earned that respect from the Giants’ first-year coach. Not with his statistics, which are quite modest, given that he has only eight touchdown passes in 10 games. It’s what’s inside that means everything.
"He’s a really tough dude, mentally tough and physically tough," Judge said. "That really spreads throughout our entire team."
That toughness showed itself Sunday in what might have been the most important game of Jones’ young career. The 23-year-old quarterback had a chance to bring the Giants to within striking distance of the Eagles in an admittedly woeful NFC East, and he responded with a strong effort in a 27-17 win at MetLife Stadium.
The Giants (3-7) equaled the win total of the Eagles (3-5-1). But the more important barometer is their 3-2 mark since an 0-5 start.
Jones’ numbers may not have had the pizzazz of multiple touchdown passes — he didn’t throw any — but his play reflected an improving young player who has done what the coach has asked: make meaningful progress toward putting his team in position to win.
He has done that.
While his turnover problems have been well-documented through his first two seasons, his last two games have featured smart play and no mistakes. There have been no fumbles or interceptions the last two games — both divisional wins — and the Giants have come to respect him even more.
"When he steps in our huddle," Judge said, "there’s 10 guys looking at him knowing that he’s going to be the one to give them the answer to what the problem may be on the field."
The answer on Sunday came in the form of a spectacular 34-yard touchdown run in the first half — yes, he made it to the end zone without stumbling on this one, unlike the potential 88-yard TD that became an 80-yard run in a 22-21 loss to the Eagles in Week 9. And it came in the form of some big-time throws in the second half, when the Eagles made their comeback bid.
Unlike that loss at Lincoln Financial Field, when the Giants blew an 11-point lead in the final minutes, Jones preserved this win with some timely strikes down the stretch.
There was an important drive in the third quarter, when he answered the Eagles’ touchdown drive with one of his own. Philly made it 14-11 on Boston Scott’s 56-yard run around left end, but Jones came right back on the next drive to increase the lead to 21-11.
On consecutive plays, he hit Sterling Shepard with a dart down the left side for a 27-yard completion and found Golden Tate for a 38-yard gain to the Eagles’ 10. Three plays later, Wayne Gallman scored his second rushing touchdown of the afternoon to make it a two-score game.
After the Eagles crept back to 24-17 in the fourth quarter, Jones hit Darius Slayton on a marvelous deep throw down the left side. The 40-yarder helped set up Graham Gano’s field goal, which effectively put the game out of reach with 3:06 to play.
"Obviously, they were expecting run and expecting us to try to drain out the clock," Jones said of the big play to Slayton. "It was a matchup where we had Darius down the field. Just tried to give him a chance. Great call by [offensive coordinator Jason] Garrett in that situation and a heck of a catch from Darius."
Jones knows he has to make those throws and has to make them count.
"That’s something we talk about a lot is giving those guys a chance," said Jones, who was 21-for-28 for 244 yards and a 100.9 rating. "Those are certainly two situations where guys made huge plays for us. I’ve got to keep giving them chances to do that."
At 3-7, there still is a long way to get back to respectability. Let’s not talk about this Giants team in the same breath as Kansas City and Pittsburgh, but in a division that is there for the taking, at least it’s something.
Perhaps more importantly, Jones has the respect of his coach and his teammates.
"I think our team has taken on that identity from Coach, and we’re playing a tough brand of football right now," Jones said. "I certainly try to be part of that."
He is very much a part of that. And if it continues, it could lead to an unlikely divisional title.
Not only has Daniel Jones settled down in the pocket, he’s become a force when he pulls the ball down and runs. The Giants’ leading rushers:
Carries Yards Avg. TDs
Daniel Jones 49 384 7.8 1
Wayne Gallman 69 275 4.0 5
Devonta Freeman 54 172 3.2 1