If this Giants season were a cheesy midday soap opera — and at this point it may not be all that far removed from turning into one — there would be a perfectly good explanation for what is happening at quarterback.
Maybe Daniel Jones, who looked so steady and reliable for the first few weeks of the season, has been kidnapped and replaced by his evil twin. Perhaps the hit to his helmet in Dallas deprogrammed the spell that the team had cast upon him to prevent him from being sloppy with the football. Jones may even wake up in a cold sweat one day this week, look around to spot healthy and productive Saquon Barkley, Kadarius Toney, Kenny Golladay and Andrew Thomas in his living room, and be so relieved that the last two weeks were actually just a dream. A nightmare, really.
Alas, there are no convoluted script devices upon which to pin the play we have witnessed recently. There is only one way for Jones and the Giants to emerge from this storyline. He has to play smarter and better. He’s shown that he can do that. Now he has to prove that he can do it consistently.
He has to do it Sunday against the Panthers at MetLife Stadium.
The Giants need the real Daniel Jones to step forward, whichever version that is.
If it’s the one who chucks passes directly to defensive backs and sails short passes and overthrows downfield receivers, fine. At least the team will know what they have and they can decide to move on. If it’s the one who engineered the overtime comeback against the Saints and who left the field tied or with the lead in the final minutes of the eventual losses to Atlanta and Washington, then they have a franchise quarterback they can build around.
So far, Jones has not shown the latter form consistently enough to chalk up his most recent performance as a mulligan.
To be clear, Sunday’s four-turnover performance was not all on Jones. He was under siege behind an overmatched offensive line and without some of his most dynamic playmakers. The one he thought he would have to rely on in that game lasted eight snaps and the offense looked glorious, but when Toney limped off so too did the energy and potential of the unit to move the ball.
"Things caught up to us," quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski said of the injuries.
That will be the case again in this game. The challenge for Jones is not to try to play above those shortcomings around him, but to play through them.
"We’d hope for it to be perfect every time, but the reality in pro football and for everyone across the league is it doesn’t work out perfect," Jones said of running the offense, particularly short-handed on playmakers. "So it’s about managing situations and avoiding the bad plays."
Jones often gets into trouble when he tries to do too much, when he feels like he has to make things happen because no one else is capable of it. That’s been the narrative of his career. And to be fair, most of his tenure with the Giants has been played under circumstances in which no one else is capable of it.
"You never want to take his fastball away, his aggressiveness away, but there are smart elements to that," Schuplinski said. "He’s shown some good examples of doing that his year and I think that will continue."
If it does, it will herald the next step in Jones’ development. An elite quarterback is someone who can lift others to heights greater than their limitations, who can bring out the best from the Collin Johnsons and Dante Pettises of the world rather than try to overcome their presence on the field with risky decisions that sink the team anyway.
That’s part of the lineup Jones will likely be playing with on Sunday, scout team receivers and third-string linemen. He needs to figure out how to make it all function.
Every quarterback is entitled to a bad day. Last Sunday was Jones’. A clean, strong performance against the Panthers will go a long way toward declaring the Rams debacle an aberration and hiccup rather than his baseline.
"Daniel has played really well for us," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. "We’ve talked about how he’s improved greatly from probably the middle of last year on. He’s off to a really good start this year, has done a great job taking care of the ball. He had two uncharacteristic decisions that led to interceptions in that (last) game… He’s critical of himself and then he’s able to move on, and that’s something he has to do in this area."
Can he do it?
It’s a cliffhanger. Tune in Sunday for the next episode of As the Football Spins.