It was difficult enough for Daniel Jones coming into the season as the opening day starter in Year 2. The task is exponentially more difficult now that the Giants’ best player is gone for the season.
This is truly Daniel Jones’ team, especially without Saquon Barkley.
The Jones-Barkley alliance was to be the linchpin of the Giants’ offense, a duo the team had counted on to lead the offense now and long into the future. But with Barkley now sidelined for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL he suffered Sunday in Chicago, Jones’ job just got that much harder.
Then again, his opportunity grew that much more compelling. After all, if Jones really is the answer at quarterback, then this is now the perfect opportunity for him to show that he can truly carry this team on his shoulders.
The way all the great ones do.
He gets that chance knowing that Barkley won’t be there until next season at the earliest. And he does so with a group of teammates and coaches who believe in him.
"The guy’s love for the game, I love to see it," wide receiver Golden Tate said Monday, barely 24 hours after the Giant fell to 0-2 after a 17-13 loss to the Bears. "It’s the most important thing in his life, and he puts in the time. He’s one of those guys who is built to do this. He’s getting more comfortable in the huddle, commanding the offense and leading us."
That comfort hasn’t yet translated to a win this season, and Jones has just one victory in his last 12 starts. But there are some encouraging signs of progress, even if there needs to be much more to create the kind of lasting impact Eli Manning left behind after his 16-year career ended in 2019. Jones is still turning the ball over too much; he has three interceptions in two games. And there was another fumble against the Bears.
But he was competitive against the Steelers before throwing a brutal interception at the end of a 19-play drive in the second half. And in the face of a 17-0 halftime deficit against the Bears, Jones brought the Giants back and nearly pulled off an unlikely victory before a pass on the final play of the game fell incomplete as Tate was called for offensive pass interference.
"As you can see [Sunday], he seemed completely comfortable late in the game," Tate said. "The guy is growing each and every day, including during the weeks of practicing. That’s what you want to see out of the leader of your team. We’re all behind D.J."
But with Barkley gone, the collective urgency must increase, and Jones himself must resist the temptation to do too much to make up for his absence. He needs to play within himself, lest he make mistakes trying to overcompensate for Barkley’s absence.
"It’s going to come from a combination of everyone on our roster," coach Joe Judge said. "Every offensive player has to be ready to make plays and step up when their number is called. Daniel’s job is to distribute the ball to the open man, just keep it pretty simple with that. And as coaches, we have to find inventive ways to get the ball to our guys in space."
Tate said Jones "can’t do this by himself. We all have to do our part, top to bottom, consistently. When we do that, it’s going to take pressure off him … It’s going to make it easier once we all are doing our jobs play-in and play-out."
If Jones is truly up to the task, then he will live up to the conviction that general manager Dave Gettleman had in making him the sixth overall pick last year. Great players find a way, even when the circumstances seem most difficult.
And make no mistake: Losing a playmaker of Barkley’s stature is as difficult as it gets.
But if Jones truly has what it takes, then he’ll show himself in the weeks and months ahead.
If not, then his – and Gettleman’s – legacy will be that of unfulfilled expectations.