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The final test of Daniel Jones' rookie season: Facing the playoff-hungry Eagles

Daniel Jones of the Giants throws a pass

Daniel Jones of the Giants throws a pass before a game against the Redskins at FedExField on Sunday in Landover, Md. Credit: Getty Images/Patrick McDermott

Daniel Jones has one more dragon to slay in his rookie quest. It’s a fire-breather that has been torturing the Giants for some time now.

On Sunday, Jones will make his first start against the Eagles, the only division rival he has yet to play against. The teams faced off less than a month ago, but Jones was coming off his ankle sprain at the time and Eli Manning started what turned out to be an overtime loss for the Giants. It was the sixth straight time the Eagles beat the Giants and their 10th win in 11 meetings.

And now Jones gets a crack at them.

It’s been a season of firsts for Jones. This will be the last of them.

Perhaps it will be the most important, too. A sort of final exam. The Giants’ season has been a flop with only four wins through the first 15 games, but if they are able to rise up and beat the Eagles — a team that needs the win to clinch the NFC East title and make the playoffs — it would be a sound way to finish the slate.

The Giants insist they are not thinking about the implications of the game for the Eagles — “Let’s just go with: We want to finish the season off strong,” Saquon Barkley said with a knowing smile as he recited the company line — but they clearly understand that a victory on Sunday would be very different from any of their other wins.

They should have lost to the Bucs, and their other three wins this year have come against the Dolphins and Washington, two teams that have a combined six victories. The Eagles?

“It’s going to feel a lot different. I actually think it’s going to be a test,” Barkley finally conceded. “We are playing against a team where this is a playoff game for them. We are going to get their best. At some point, hopefully soon, I believe we will be on the other [side] of it where we will be a playoff team. But we are going to get their best and we are going out there to compete at a high level and see who comes out on top . . .  What a way to go out, against Philly in front of our home crowd.”

The only thing better would be a win. With Jones at quarterback.

That would lift the hex that the Eagles seem to have on the Giants and perhaps usher in a new era in the rivalry. At the very least, Jones would not have to hear about his team having lost however many of the last however-many-plus-one games they have faced the Eagles.

Many of those losses were gut punches, too. The overtime loss four weeks ago. The game in Philadelphia last year when Barkley was dominating and the Giants inexplicably stopped running the ball. The 61-yard field goal by Jake Elliott to beat them in 2017. And that doesn’t even include the pair of Miracles at the Meadowlands that predate this recent lopsided trend.

But on Sunday, the Giants will have Jones, who is coming off a five-touchdown game against Washington. They came close with their backup quarterback playing on Dec. 9. Now they will face the Eagles with their starter.

Jones was on the sideline for the game, but he also was in the meeting rooms and in the film studies during the week.

“He was injured, so he was forced to watch,” Pat Shurmur said. “But the mental reps that you get by watching are also important. I’m sure there’s something that he learned. He could probably tell you better than I can.”

Or he can just show it on Sunday and cap his rookie season by vanquishing a team that may need the win more than the Giants do in terms of this season but probably not as much as the Giants do in terms of seasons to come.

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