On paper, Daniel Jones’ first significant workday of 2021 was not all bad. In fact, it was mostly good.
The Giants quarterback was 22-for-37 for 267 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s opener against the Broncos at MetLife Stadium.
He also ran for a touchdown and was the Giants’ leading rusher with 27 yards – one more than Saquon Barkley had in his return after a 51-week absence. And Jones used needed only six carries to get there, four fewer than Barkley.
You know what word comes next, though: but.
There always seems to be a "but" with the third-year man out of Duke, whose franchise quarterback clock was ticking loudly entering the season and got no quieter on Sunday.
Clearly, he has the talent to be a successful NFL starter. Clearly, that is not always enough.
This time the stomach-turning moment came with 2:47 left in the third quarter, and it proved to be the biggest play in the Giants’ 27-13 loss.
Their offense was heating up - finally. The crowd was back at MetLife for a regular-season game, energized and chanting, "Let’s go Giants!" - finally.
Jones had converted two big third downs with completions to Sterling Shepard. Then Barkley ran for a third-down conversion in his first game back from a torn right ACL.
Even though the Giants trailed, 17-7, all seemed pointed in the right direction.
Then, boom! Jones did what he has done too often in his young career, erasing all the good with one very bad.
He scrambled for a seven-yard gain, and rather than give himself up, he tried for more yards, was hit by Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson and fumbled.
The Broncos’ Malik Reed recovered at the Denver 13-yard line, and that was pretty much that.
One big mistake in one game does not mean he will fail in this potentially make-or-break season, but it was a troubling start, especially given his resume.
Afterward Jones was his laconic self in discussing the game-turning play.
"Certainly have to protect the ball better, try to get two hands on it," he said. "Didn’t secure it tight enough in that situation."
Should he have slid? After all, it was a first-and-10 play, and he already had gained seven yards. It was not as if it was a desperate third-down situation.
"I’ll have to look at it and look at the play," Jones said. "But it’s certainly something I have to improve on and I’ll learn from it moving forward."
And this: "Turnovers are always going to hurt you at any point in the game. They’re big plays. I have to do a good job of taking care of the ball."
What did he learn from the play? "Just protect the ball better."
The next time Jones scrambled he did slide and got a bonus 15 yards out of it when Denver’s Justin Simmons hit him late.
But Jones said that slide was not related to his earlier non-slide. "Different situation, different scenario," he said. "I’ll look at it on film and study it and continue to learn from it."
Jones had some moments after the fumble. Trailing 20-7, the Giants made it as far as a first-and-goal at the Denver 7.
But on fourth-and-goal from the 6, Jones threw a high pass to Kenny Golladay that cornerback Kyle Fuller tipped away.
MetLife quickly emptied out after that, especially when Melvin Gordon III ran 70 yards for a touchdown to make it 27-7. By the end, most of the spectators remaining were happy – and wearing Broncos orange.
Coach Joe Judge and players took note of the empty seats but did not blame the fans for leaving early even after they had waited since the 2019 season for this chance.
Judge said the Giants must earn the respect of the fans – and make them want to stay until the end.
Their next chance to do that will be against the Falcons in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, there is work to do.
That starts with Jones, and it starts with protecting the ball. As always.