When Daniel Jones missed two games last December, it wasn’t that big a deal. The Giants already were out of the playoff picture.
Jones was able to return for the final two weeks of the season and gather some more experience before his rookie year ended. His absence even had a positive effect, allowing the organization and the region to give Eli Manning a proper send-off into retirement. But this December’s injury is a different situation.
After missing last week’s game, Jones will return to start Sunday’s contest against the Cardinals, a source confirmed to Newsday. The Giants are so confident in Jones’ ability to get through the game that they did not elevate a potential third quarterback from their practice squad this weekend. Colt McCoy, who started last week and helped the Giants beat Seattle, will be the only backup on the roster.
It is imperative that Jones come back from his right hamstring strain as soon and as healthy as possible — two goals that can pull in opposite directions — with the Giants having fought all the way to the top of the standings in the NFC East with four games to play.
Why? Because opportunities for quarterbacks to get to the NFL’s biggest stage and prove themselves on it are rare, and a glimpse around the league shows that patience for the position is at an all-time low.
Carson Wentz, who was leading the Eagles toward a Super Bowl until he tore his ACL three years ago, has been benched in Philadelphia. Mitchell Trubisky, drafted two years before Jones, was selected to a Pro Bowl and led his team to the postseason in 2018 but has had the Bears turn their backs on him. Washington barely gave Dwayne Haskins a chance to be its quarterback this year, even though he was drafted shortly after Jones in the first round in 2019.
Look no further than the Jets, who seem as if they can’t wait to dump Sam Darnold in exchange for a newer model, perhaps with the first overall pick, after just three seasons of play from the third overall selection in the 2018 draft.
Even with this dreadful year in which he is 0-8 as the starter, and with a team that has sported far fewer weapons than the Giants have had, Darnold’s career winning percentage (.323) remains higher than Jones’ (.304).
None of this is to say that the Giants are near exhausting their patience with Jones. Far from it. The organization remains enamored of the quarterback, and his play in the 2 1/2 games before he was sidelined with the hamstring injury only reinforced those feelings.
The fact that this year has been so . . . so 2020, with the virtual offseason and abbreviated training camp and no preseason games and an entirely new offensive system to learn, certainly has the franchise optimistic about Jones’ immediate future. Year three, when things hopefully will be back to normal, to be specific.
But at some point, Jones will have to prove that faith right. He’ll have to win big games that matter in December and January (and February). Just having the opportunity to play in such contests is far from a given, as most of the past decade of Giants history has proved.
If Jones can start to make the case this year that he is the quarterback who can lead the team to its next Super Bowl title — even if that trophy isn’t raised this year — the 2020 season will be a success for him as well as the Giants.
This season was never about winning the division or making the playoffs. That wasn’t even a goal set forth by ownership when the year began. That prospect became a potential bonus only recently, especially with the Eagles and Cowboys faltering.
No, this season was always about Jones’ development. Now, with four regular-season games remaining, it’s time for the final exam in that course.
It’s time to see what Jones can do when it matters the most.
And who knows the next time it will matter as much as it does now.