There’s no need to sugarcoat this, no reason to try and explain away what just happened, so we’ll go ahead and say it: The way Daniel Jones played in Sunday’s 36-9 home loss to an injury-ravaged 49ers team makes you wonder just how long it’s going to take for him to show he can be an impactful starter in this league.
Or, to take it a step further: IF he can be an impactful starter.
It was yet another uninspiring performance from the Giants’ 23-year-old quarterback, who led the offense to three measly field goals, never ran a play from inside the 49ers’ red zone, added two more turnovers and played so listlessly against a team without Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman, Solomon Thomas and other key players.
The Giants spent the No. 6 overall pick in 2019 on Jones in hopes he could be the long-term successor to Eli Manning, but we simply haven’t seen any demonstrative evidence that he’s the answer at the most important position in pro sports. The former Duke quarterback was just 17-for-32 for 179 yards, no touchdown passes, one interception and a fumble on a botched lateral to tight end Evan Engram.
Meanwhile, the 49ers went with Nick Mullens, who replaced the injured Jimmy Garoppolo and torched the Giants defense for 343 yards, one touchdown pass and a 108.9 rating. That’s right. Jones was outplayed – badly outplayed – by an undrafted free agent in 2017 who’d had eight previous starts before Sunday.
At this time last year, Jones made his NFL debut, producing a tour de force Week 3 performance by passing for 336 yards and two touchdowns and running for two more, including the game-winner, in a 32-31 comeback win in Tampa. Week 3 this season, and the dynamic is completely different. He has shown signs of regression, including a combined six turnovers in the Giants’ 0-3 start. And he simply hasn’t been able to summon the kind of presence he showed in his first start.
While it may not be the time to make a definitive conclusion about whether Jones can indeed develop into the quarterback the Giants so desperately need, it is certainly appropriate to start wondering. A generation ago, the Giants entrusted their hopes in another Duke quarterback at the end of the Phil Simms/Jeff Hostetler era ended. Giants fans can only hope Jones won’t become Dave Brown 2.0.
The Giants needed Jones to step up in the absence of Pro Bowl running back Saquon Barkley, who is out for the year with a knee injury, and veteran receiver Sterling Shepard, who is on injured reserve with turf toe. Jones did nothing of the sort and was simply not up to the job against the 49ers. His two first-half turnovers helped the 49ers build a 16-6 lead at intermission, and he was unable to rally the Giants after San Francisco pulled away in the second half.
"You look at each one of those [turnovers] individually and try to understand what happened and what the mistake was and move on from it," he said. "I need to do a better job, and that’s something I’m focusing on. Those are costly mistakes."
It’s an all-too-familiar pattern. Jones will take one step forward and then two steps back, and the net result comes back to the same conclusion: So far, Jones is a losing quarterback. He has now been the starter for a season’s worth of games, and the record shows that he’s 3-13 in that span. Jones alone cannot overcome the dearth of talent on this roster, and he isn’t entirely responsible for that record. But you know when you see a quarterback with the "it" factor, a guy who you can envision being part of the answer when the pieces around him get better. At this point, though, I just can’t see it from Jones.
He is a young quarterback with decent arm talent and a great work ethic. But if you are going to take a team to a championship, you need to be able to raise the level of play from your team, even when things around you are falling apart. Jones simply doesn’t have that ability, and I don’t know if he ever will.
Jones faces some difficult moments in this early part of his career, and he’s doing his best to fight his way out of it. He said the Giants are "determined to play better and determined to fix things that have gotten in our way. We’re not going to let it affect our confidence. I think we have the guys in the locker room to do it and that mindset will be key."
Now the question is whether Jones has the capability of transforming that mindset into sustained excellence.
So far, the answer is no.