Daniel Jones has thrown thousands of passes since the last time he played in a game that mattered. From the barnstorming workouts he organized with teammates in the spring to his private drills at home in Charlotte to the past few weeks of training camp and preseason work with the Giants, he’s been grinding away at his craft. His arm is like a perpetual motion machine, never tiring, always ready to do more.
That’s what impresses people the most about Jones.
"He works his tail off," wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. "Over the offseason, he's nothing short of that. We were throwing almost every week. We would have different throwing camps. That guy's going to come to work with an attitude every day. He wants to be great, and he's been working toward that."
But of those thousands of passes, there is one that sticks out. It’s the one that, in many ways, exemplifies what Jones’ career has been through his first two seasons. It came on third-and-goal from the 1 in the final preseason game late last month, the Giants inches away from capping what had already been a sharp and efficient eight-play drive. He rolled to his right, saw tight end Evan Engram open and threw a no-look pass across his body.
Had he hit Engram it would have been one of the highlight plays of the summer for any quarterback on any team and sent the Giants into the regular season on a roll.
Instead, the ball was two yards behind Engram and intercepted. It overshadowed all of the other throws he made that night, all of them that he made in the months leading up to it. And it was just the latest face-palm moment from the quarterback who likely leads the league in that emoji.
Take away that one pass and Jones is a fine-tuned engine ready to make the third-year jump that the organization is counting on him to execute. Include it and there are concerns that he may never become the franchise quarterback they need.
In many ways, that’s what this season is all about for the Giants. Single plays here, little moments there, tiny opportunities that can be missed or taken advantage of, all of them adding up to a 17-game stretch that feels as if it will be a hinge year in the direction of the franchise. It’s why head coach Joe Judge has spent a great deal of time this summer preparing the Giants to vanquish their biggest enemy: Themselves.
"He says it all the time: ‘You can’t start winning until you stop losing,’ " veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph said of Judge’s steady message.
Are the Giants ready to do that?
"We’re all 0-0, so we haven’t had an opportunity to lose or win," safety Logan Ryan said. "But we’re going to see."
Judge isn’t talking about games when he wants to rid the team of losing, though. He’s talking on a more granular level. Drives. Plays. Decisions.
"There’s a lot of parity in this league," Judge said. "There’s a lot of talent. The league is structured that the worst teams have the earliest draft picks, you get compensatory picks for players you lose in free agency. There are good coaches on every team, there’s good players on every team. It’s too close of a competition … Mistakes kill your chances of winning."
Jones is not alone in making them. Over the course of the coming months there will be times when he throws the wrong pass, but there will also be players who run the wrong route or drop a would-be completion, or miss a tackle or blow a coverage that results in points for the opponent. If they can be mitigated, the Giants have a chance to break out of the funk they have been in over the past few years, having lost 10 or more games in six of the last seven seasons and have made the postseason once in the last nine campaigns.
"We're trying to make sure we're sound across the board, playing as 11, and if we do that I think we could be one of the best," linebacker Blake Martinez said.
Jones has almost all of the attributes that a team looks for in its quarterback.
"There are just so many positives about him," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. "Start with who he is as a person, his approach, his competitive spirit, his smarts, his toughness, all of that. And then he has athletic ability. He's big, he can throw the ball, he can move around and make plays with his feet. I think we've all seen that."
We’ve also seen the dark side, those terrible moments that are often ill-timed and can be team-crippling.
If Jones can eliminate them — if the Giants can eliminate them — then this season could be a special one that perhaps sees their return to the postseason and potentially springboards them to the kind of sustained success Judge has been after since he arrived in early 2020.
If Jones and these Giants can’t, it may be time to wonder if they ever will.