Giants fans didn’t have to wait long to see what the coaches had been seeing all camp and preseason. In the second quarter, Jones faked an inside RPO and kept it, running around right end for a seven-yard TD. Trailing 28-10 coming out of halftime, he zinged the first pass of the third quarter to tight end Evan Engram up the left sideline; a 75-yard touchdown resulted. Then, with his top wideout Sterling Shepard double-covered in the end zone, Jones threw a line drive to a diving Shepard where only he could catch it. Touchdown.
It came down to this: Bucs up 31-25, 1:21 left. Giants ball at the Tampa 7. Fourth-and-five. Shurmur planned to flood the field with five receivers: three wides, a back and a tight end. With ace pass-catching back Saquon Barkley on crutches with a high ankle sprain, the Giants were diminished. But at the snap, all five receivers moved away from the middle of the field—running back Wayne Gallman to the right flat; Shepard to the left flat; wideout Bennie Fowler on a left-to-right crossing route; Engram taking two Bucs defenders on a simple out route to the left, two yards deep in the end zone; and rookie wideout Darius Slayton trolling the back of the end zone. Seven Bucs total clung to five Giants.
“What did you see at that moment, when those receivers were in their routes?” I asked Jones an hour after the game.
“Space,” Jones said. “Kinda open there in the middle of the field. I saw grass.”
When Jones emerged from the scrum, he might have been able to hit Slayton, running from right to left nine yards deep in the end zone, with corner Carlton Davis in pursuit but with a little window. But why throw? With northern New Jersey and Staten Island and Brooklyn and Manhattan and Yonkers and Queens and upstate New York and Greenwich and Stamford and Danbury all screaming at their TVs: Run, Daniel, run!, he ran straight ahead, in the Central Park of open NFL spaces. No Buc was within six yards of him when he crossed the goal line. I heard that the Giants didn’t intend for the play to evolve into an easy touchdown run there, but whatever the intent, the reality looked genius.
Luckily for the Giants, Bucs kicker Matt Gay played along with the tabloid storyline, missing a 34-yard goat-of-the-week-ensuring field goal at the gun. The final: Giants 32, Bucs 31. The sleepy franchise has life. This morning, the back page of the Post blares:
NEW MANN IN TOWN
“It must feel incredibly rewarding,” I said to Jones.
Bait not taken.
“Yeah, I mean … fun to get a win, but at the end of the day it’s one game. We’ll look forward to building off it. I gotta run. Thanks!”
Jones has made the Giants interesting now, for the rest of 2019 and, presumably with some reinforcements including a pass-rusher, a top wideout and a better offensive line, for the future. Watching him Sunday, you saw a quarterback of the present, and the future. Eli Manning’s had seven rushing touchdowns in a 15-year career. Jones had two in three hours—and one was on a designed run. His arm was accurate and crisp. He had a good feel for the pocket, and for sensing pressure.
You’ve probably heard how much Jones is like Manning. True. They’re both overly humble, and those close to them say neither is acting. When I asked Jones about the help he got from Manning this week, he said: “His support is something I’m super-grateful for. His biggest message to me was to keep it simple. Not try to be perfect. Not try to get the perfect call or the perfect check every time. Get on the same page, be clear in the huddle, and be confident, and go with it. That was tremendous advice. I’m a first-year player. I need that.”
“He’s mature beyond all of our years,” Shurmur said. The Giants will take that into an uncertain future—but a future much more promising after Week 3 than after Week 2.