When Daniel Jones took the shotgun snap on first-and-goal from the 6 against Washington last week, he had four options to his left. He faked a handoff to Wayne Gallman and then had to decide which of those receivers gave him the best chance to score.
No. Nope. Nuh-uh. Nah.
Then he looked to his right and saw Gallman waving his arms wide open and zipped the ball to the running back for an easy touchdown.
Easy, but so darn sophisticated. In a league in which a fifth read on a progression is almost unheard of — “You’re not really supposed to say that because you really don’t get through five,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said — Jones had the presence and wherewithal to analyze those split-second decisions and make the right one.
“It’s pretty good,” Shula said, trying to hide a grin, and dismissing that it was made by a rookie in his second NFL start because even from a wily veteran such a display would be impressive. “That play right there was pretty good.”
And it’s why the Giants think Jones, who is 2-0 since becoming the team’s starting quarterback, can take some huge strides toward becoming even better as his first season goes along.
“With Daniel, and young players that are good players and are seeing things for the first time, they make bigger jumps with regard to improvement,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “I anticipate that will be the case for him throughout the year.”
Jones has already overcome the first two challenges to his young career. He led the comeback against the Bucs, a team that may have underestimated him and his athleticism, then helped the Giants trounce winless Washington. Of the 20 quarterbacks taken with top 10 draft picks since 2010, he is just the third to start his career with a pair of victories (Carson Wentz and Patrick Mahomes, two MVP-caliber players, are the others).
Now comes the next big test for his development in Sunday’s game against the Vikings at MetLife Stadium.
The firsts are over for Jones — first start, first home start — and now it’s time to face one of the NFL’s top defenses. The Vikings are among the top 10 in the league in yards allowed per game (312.8), passing yards allowed per game (218.5), third down conversion percentage (30.0) and points allowed per game (15.8).
“You start saying, ‘OK, well, this is their best player… No, this guy is their best player,’” Shurmur said of the many defensive stars for the Vikings. “They have two edge rushers. They have interior guys that can get push. They have linebackers that are Pro Bowlers. They have corners and they have safeties that have all been to Pro Bowls. They’re well-coordinated and they put pressure on the passer, and they do a good job of stopping the run. That’s what you want from a defense.”
They are legit. And by the end of this game, we’ll have a better sense of Jones’ legitimacy too.
He won’t have to do it alone. He’ll still be missing Saquon Barkley, ruled out with a high ankle sprain. But this week he is getting wide receiver Golden Tate back from his four-game suspension. And the offensive line that for so many years was the bane of Eli Manning’s play has become a source of solace for the young quarterback. Shula credited them with giving Jones time to make all those reads on the pass against Washington, and offensive line coach Hal Hunter said his group's mental errors in games are at “an all-time low.”
It also helps that the same five linemen have played every offensive snap this season.
“We’re syncing together and playing as one,” center Jon Halapio said.
But it is still the quarterback who makes things work, who has to be able to take advantage of the opportunities the other 10 players give him.
“Jones just seems like he’s playing very free,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He just sees it and lets it loose, and he’s not worried about any ramifications. He’s just going out and playing the game.”
On Sunday, he’ll play the game against the best defense he’s ever had to face in his life.
“Every week is a prove-it week,” Shurmur said. “This is going to be a big test.”