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How Daniel Jones' history vs. Buccaneers tells the story of his NFL career so far

Daniel Jones is sacked by Buccaneers' Ndamukong Suh

Daniel Jones is sacked by Buccaneers' Ndamukong Suh on Nov. 2, 2020.   Credit: Jim McIsaac

To tell the story of Daniel Jones’ NFL tenure thus far, there are really only two games that need be examined.

Both were against the Buccaneers.

He made his first career start in Tampa Bay on Sept. 22, 2019, throwing two touchdowns and rushing for two others to lead the Giants to a 32-31 victory and erase a 28-10 halftime deficit.

"The second half and kind of just catching a rhythm, making plays," Jones said of his memories of that day. "The final drive [capped by his touchdown run] I think was the thing I’ll remember the most."

"That was a fun game, a really fun game," said tight end Evan Engram, whose touchdown on the first play of the third quarter sparked the comeback. "It was just a crazy game and DJ running it in at the end, it was an awesome game."

That was the good Daniel Jones. The very good Daniel Jones.

But there was some ominous foreshadowing in that game, too. Jones fumbled twice, rookie glitches that were easy to chalk up to inexperience and exuberance. At the time, anyway.

Which brings us to Jones’ second game against the Buccaneers, last year at MetLife Stadium. Jones threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns and was a two-point conversion pass in the final minute away from sending the game into overtime, but his two second-half interceptions proved too costly in the 25-23 loss.

"It wasn’t a great game for sure and there were definitely things that I could’ve done better, things I learned from," Jones said of that contest.

It was, in fact, one of the worst games of his career.

Which one was more significant to the Story of Daniel Jones? The answer might be surprising. Because while his career turnover numbers remain atrocious, that loss to Tampa Bay seems to represent a turning point in his responsibility with the football, a game when he came to the conclusion that enough was enough.

In his first 20 starts, including last year’s game against the Bucs, he threw 21 interceptions and lost 14 fumbles. In the 15 starts since then he has thrown just six interceptions and lost five fumbles. Still not great, but in more than half of those games (eight of the 15) he’s had no turnovers at all.

"That was obviously a line that you can say before this game or after this game there were distinctively different results," Joe Judge said. "He’s improved as a player every game we’ve had him and that [loss against Tampa Bay] was a significant part for him in terms of progressing in his career."

Jones downplayed the idea that the loss to the Buccaneers last year was his nadir. But he did not shy away from acknowledging how important it was for him. Just as Eli Manning’s embarrassing rookie year loss to the Ravens when he had a passer rating of 0.0 changed the course of his career, so too does Jones’ most recent performance against the Buccaneers seem to have altered his.

"There were several key plays in that game I learned from and mistakes that we talked about not making anymore," Jones said. "That was an important game from a learning standpoint and protecting the ball."

So which Daniel Jones will show up when the Giants play the Buccaneers on Monday night to complete the early career trilogy? Will it be the 2019 version who was able to overcome his mistakes for a thrilling comeback? Or the 2020 version who was sunk by them in a disheartening yet didactic collapse?

Maybe it will be the 2021 version that learned lessons from each previous incarnation and, for the most part, has managed to avoid those turnovers since.

New York Sports