The Giants just had a three-week glimpse of what life would be like for them without Daniel Jones. Truth be told, it wasn’t all that different from the one they lead when he is on the field.
There was very little scoring, hardly any winning and a lot of games that came down to small plays the Giants did not make.
Needless to say, it’s not supposed to be like that. When you pay a quarterback $160 million over four years, you expect someone who can regularly impact the outcomes of games in a favorable fashion, someone who can carry the rest of the roster and be pointed to as the reason for victory. Someone who is actually missed when he is sidelined with an injury.
It’s probably too late for Jones — who will start Sunday after being cleared for contact from the neck injury that had kept him out of action since Week 5 in Miami — to salvage this Giants season. They are 2-6 and in last place in the division, and this past week, they sold off one of their defensive captains for a future draft pick, a sure sign that the front office is focusing its attention down the road rather than on the present squad.
What Jones must do with the rest of this already disappointing season, though, is give the Giants enough of a reason to stick with him as their guy. If he can prove to be an actual difference-maker in that regard, great. If not, then the Giants should head into this offseason in search of someone who can be.
Jones essentially is right back to where he was a year ago at this time, playing for his future with the organization. He won that argument once by bringing home a playoff victory. Now, to remain firmly planted in his role, he’ll have to play at or above that level again.
These next nine games are going to be a referendum. A referendum redux.
“I'm excited to be back in the swing of things,” Jones said, using that word “excited” about a half-dozen times in other equally unexciting sentences.
His job now is to make sure the Giants are actually excited to have him back.
The good news for Jones is that unlike much of his season, he’ll have some help getting there. The Giants bumbled through a three-game stretch against the 49ers, Seahawks and Dolphins with Jones under historically steady pressure and nowhere to turn as they were outscored 85-31 during that stretch.
The last time Jones and Saquon Barkley were both healthy and on the field together was at the end of the Week 2 game in which the Giants scored 31 second-half points in a comeback win over the Cardinals.
Can they pick up where they left off when they are reunited on Sunday in Las Vegas?
“I can’t sit here and guarantee that,” Barkley said, rightly shying away from guaranteeing a four-touchdown half, “but it will definitely give us a better opportunity to win football games when our best players are out there on the field.”
Beyond Barkley and Jones, the Giants also might have offensive tackles Andrew Thomas (hamstring) and Evan Neal (ankle) available together for the first time since Week 1.
“We haven’t had all of our guys on the field at once in a long time,” Barkley said. “It’ll be good when you have your playmakers, some of your best players out there. We jell well together.”
The one playmaker the Giants won’t have is tight end Darren Waller, who injured his hamstring last Sunday and is now on injured reserve. Still, there should be enough for Jones to work with. Enough for him to win with.
“Part of the process this week is getting everyone in the mix, getting everyone working on the same page and putting together a good week of practice,” offensive coordinator Mike Kafka said.
The Giants are averaging a league-low 11.9 points per game, and that’s with a defensive touchdown. The Giants have had only eight seasons in which they scored less per game. All eight were played between their inception in 1925 and 1937. Last year they averaged 21.5 points per game, ranked 15th in the league.
Nearly a third of their 95 total points this season came in that second half in Arizona. Just before the game-winning field goal in that game, Barkley sprained an ankle. That was the only game this season in which they scored more than 16 points.
That’s the kind of output generally produced by teams that don’t have a franchise quarterback.
Maybe that’s what the Giants are.
They certainly have a franchise quarterback contract on their books, but they are still waiting for the player to match it. Jones has played the majority of five games this season. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in nine of those 10 halves of play.
Just a few hours’ drive from the Giants’ temporary headquarters outside Las Vegas this weekend will be the USC game against Washington at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday. Be assured there will be lots of Giants eyeballs in that stadium on the lookout for a stud quarterback, and plenty back at the team hotel and in New Jersey watching on TV for the same clues from Caleb Williams and Michael Penix Jr.. Drake Maye of North Carolina is another college star who likely has tickled the Giants’ collective imagination.
The Giants are projected to have a top-five pick in April at this point of the season and also have the assets (two second-round picks, thanks to the Leonard Williams trade) to move up if they do fall in love with someone just out of their reach.
All of that is just window shopping, though. Browsing the QB aisle. Not really looking to buy.
It’s on Jones to make it stay that way.