FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tom Brady has been so good for so long that we sometimes take the Patriots’ ageless quarterback for granted. Like the other day.
Daniel Jones is standing at his locker at the Giants’ training facility and is given this reminder of Brady’s longevity: He was 4 years old when Brady won his first Super Bowl.
Jones is now a 22-year-old rookie about to face Brady for the first time in his career, and he’ll do so on a Giants team that is given little chance of beating the six-time Super Bowl champions and their 42-year-old future Hall of Fame quarterback. Brady has fended off challenges from so many promising quarterbacks – both young and old – over the years that it has become routine. The list is endless: Patrick Mahomes. Andrew Luck. Ben Roethlisberger. Philip Rivers. Kurt Warner. Tony Romo. Alex Smith.
And on and on …
About the only quarterback who has gotten the best of Brady in big moments: the guy Jones replaced as the Giants’ starter. Eli Manning is the only quarterback to beat Brady twice in the Super Bowl, with the Giants’ erstwhile starter earning MVP honors both times.
If Brady lasts long enough – and he says he wants to play into his mid-40s – then perhaps Jones can be in position to equal Manning’s remarkable achievements. But the first chapter of their rivalry may not go so well. The Giants are 16 1/2 -point underdogs – believed to be the largest spread against them in franchise history – as Jones attempts to match wits against Bill Belichick’s No. 1 defense. On the road, no less.
“I think they’ve been a good defense for a long time,” Jones said of the Patriots, who have allowed just 34 points in their 5-0 start. “Probably rookies and all other quarterbacks, [the Patriots] can play well against anyone.”
But Jones is unflinching about playing in his first primetime game against a team, a quarterback and a coach for the ages. Just as he has shown on the field, when faced with a heavy pass rush, Jones hangs in the pocket and is willing to take his hits if it means giving his team a chance.
“We’re excited for the opportunity,” he said. “We’re excited for the challenge, and I think we’ll be prepared and confident going in.”
No matter how prepared or confident, this will be an almost impossible task for Jones. Not only must he try to figure out Belichick’s defense, which is as varied and complicated as any in the history of professional football, but he must do so with a depleted offense.
Jones won’t have his best running back, Saquon Barkley (ankle). Or his best receiver, Sterling Shepard (concussion). Or his best tight end, Evan Engram (knee). All are out with injuries. Even his second-best running back, Wayne Gallman, won’t play because of a concussion.
Manning burnished his reputation with his two comeback victories over the Patriots in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, defying the odds to give the Giants their third and fourth Lombardi trophies. But Manning had the benefit of a full complement of teammates in those games, and a defense that rivaled the Giants’ 1986 and 1990 championship teams.
Jones has neither luxury. While his offense is dealing with a nasty string of injuries, the defense also is hurting, and not simply because of injury. The Vikings overpowered them in a 28-10 win on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, and even the return of inside linebacker Alec Ogletree can’t mask the deficiencies that showed against Minnesota.
Like Manning, who never – ever – shrunk from a challenge, no matter how seemingly impossible, Jones sees opportunity.
“It’s about what we can do as a team to score points, to move the ball,” he said. “I think as a team, we’re confident we’ll be able to do that. That’s the challenge, to be prepared for what they do. I think there are times I can be better in the pocket, more efficient in how I move and create space. But like each of these weeks, it’s an opportunity to learn.”
There can be no better learning experience – even in defeat – when facing the Patriots. Brady is the best quarterback in NFL history and Belichick the best coach ever, so Jones will undoubtedly take away a treasure trove of lessons. And despite everything going against the Giants in this one, Belichick is taking the rookie quarterback seriously.
In fact, the coach confided earlier in the week that he once considered Jones as a potential heir apparent for Brady. The Patriots had Jones in for a pre-draft visit, although Belichick had a feeling Jones wouldn’t last all the way to the bottom of the first round and was therefore not surprised the Giants took him at No. 6 overall.
Now the coach gets to see how well Jones can deal with a defense that might be Belichick’s best ever. And how Jones holds up against the legendary Brady, who has been a championship quarterback almost as long as Jones has been alive.