It was another tough day for the 2019 Giants, who at the season’s midpoint are 2-6 and kaput. But it was a hopeful one for the Giants of the 2020s, whose time is merely a few months away.
Such is the weirdness of seasons such as this, in which short-term goals must take a back seat to the big picture.
So yes, officially the Giants are a bad team, having lost to the Lions, 31-26, on Sunday at Ford Field, their fourth defeat in a row.
The future of their coach, Pat Shurmur, is uncertain. Their defense is porous. The Cowboys are next.
But there was a sliver of hope visible on one line on the statistics sheet: Daniel Jones was 28-for-41 for 322 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions for a career-high passer rating of 124.2.
It was his best game since his dramatic 32-31 debut victory over the Buccaneers on Sept. 22.
And he added to his degree of difficulty by bouncing back from an early mistake that led to a fumble return for a touchdown by Devon Kennard, a former Giant.
“He battled throughout the game,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “All the things we see all the time. He was in it, all the way to the end, to win it. He’s a gritty, tough young man that has a bright future.”
Said Saquon Barkley, “We’re down 14 to start and he didn’t blink. He didn’t flinch at all. He just kept going. We saw a lot of growth today, not only as a player but in the huddle as a leader.”
Let’s be clear: There is no guarantee Jones is the answer at quarterback. But this season mostly is about finding out whether he is, and if that indeed is the case, getting him the experience he needs.
Eli Manning went 1-6 in 2004 and the Giants finished 6-10. In 2005, they went 11-5.
Jones came into the game under intense scrutiny for committing turnovers, then started with that doozy. But it was a quirky play.
He was trying to pass to Barkley in the flat, but he was hit as he threw and it was ruled a lateral. Kennard beat Barkley to the ball and ran it in.
Referee Scott Novak initially ruled the play an incomplete pass and Barkley failed to go after the ball aggressively, for which he later beat himself up, saying, “There’s no excuse. That’s not who I am.”
Jones blamed himself, saying, “You just have to protect that ball in those situations.”
The rest of the game was far from clean. As Jones pointed out, he missed on several key third downs and misfired on a two-point conversion try late in the third quarter. He also fumbled but recovered the ball himself, and narrowly avoided an interception when Tracy Walker’s second foot landed out of bounds.
Overall, though, he showed the arm and touch that has the Giants excited. It took some diligence on the part of reporters, but Jones grudgingly admitted that despite his disappointment over the loss, he sees growth himself.
“I’m trying to not repeat mistakes and learn from each of those opportunities,” he said. “So yeah, I think I have learned. I’ve made some progress. But you’ve got to continue to build on that and keep doing it.”
Asked how he thought he played, he said, “I think I played fine at times, and we moved the ball . . . But like I said, I didn’t do enough, and I think that’s my biggest takeaway.”
Jones’ first two touchdown passes, covering 22 and 28 yards, went to Darius Slayton, and he later hit Evan Engram from 2 yards out and Barkley from 4.
The prettiest of the four was the second, on which Jones put the ball in a perfect spot for Slayton to leap over Rashaan Melvin and make the catch.
Golden Tate, who had eight catches for a team-high 85 yards, said, “We completely believe in him. I think Eli is doing great teaching him the game. So is [Alex] Tanney . . . He’s learning the game a little better every single week, and that’s what you want.”
Linebacker Alec Ogletree said, “He’s continuing to grow, and he’ll just get better every day. That’s all you can expect and ask for.”
For fans of the 2019 Giants, that is all that is left to expect or ask for.