There was a moment in the second quarter of the first postseason game of Daniel Jones’ career when it could have been tempting to see what was going down on the field and think to yourself, “Who is that wearing No. 8 in white and what sorcery has Brian Daboll dabbled in to risk such audaciousness?’’
Well before Daboll ever came onto the scene, Jones was untrustworthy with the ball in his hands. He had a problem hanging onto it and it was a major detriment in his formative NFL years.
That once-flawed quarterback was so sure-handed Sunday in Minneapolis, so in control of his body and mind that Daboll had no compunction giving his blessing upon hearing offensive coordinator Mike Kafka call for a bit of trickery that is often known as the Statue of Liberty play. It did not amount to a whole lot in the Giants’ 31-24 victory over the Vikings, but it meant a whole lot when viewed through the prism of Jones’ development.
“I mean, it’s something that we’ve practiced and again, Daniel’s a pretty good athlete,’’ Daboll said Monday. “He has a pretty good feel for a lot of different things in terms of ball handling, so it’s something that we put in that we thought would give us a chance.’’
That the gadget play was on the call sheet, and that Daboll trusted Jones to run it without mishap is yet another sign that this head coach-quarterback relationship is headed toward an enduring commitment. Jones is in the final year of his contract but it has become evident that the Giants will not search for a replacement and instead look to secure Jones on a multiyear deal.
“He’s really evolved,’’ Saquon Barkley said after Jones passed for 301 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 78 yards to overwhelm a shabby Vikings defense. “He’s a special player. This is where you create a legacy — the playoffs — and what a way to start it off.’’
The Giants were ahead 14-7 in the second quarter with a first-and-goal from the Vikings’ 9-yard line. Jones took the shotgun snap, with Matt Breida lined up behind him. Jones put the ball in his left hand — he’s got big hands — and with his right arm (and empty right hand) faked a quick throw to Barkley leaking out of the backfield. Barkley helped sell the fake by putting his arms in the air as if he were jumping to bring the ball in.
In the same motion, Jones kept the ball in his left hand and put his left arm behind his back, with Breida moving forward to take the handoff, which actually came at him a bit high. Breida picked up only 3 yards on a drive that ended with a Graham Gano field goal.
“Didn’t gain a whole bunch from it, but those are things that each week you try to look at and see if you can steal something,’’ Daboll said, “whether that’s on third down, backed up, wherever it may be. That’s why we put it in.’’
Daboll put it in because he believed Jones would complete the ball-handling maneuver without an unforced error. This is another growth area for a 26-year old quarterback with one playoff victory on his résumé heading into Saturday night’s meeting with the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
The knock on Jones has been that for all his athletic gifts he does not make the special play, the “wow’’ play. Those knocks are being shown the door. There were plays made by Jones in his first playoff action that separated him from the rank and file of NFL quarterbacks.
On the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, Jones’ throw to Isaiah Hodgins on the left sideline for 19 yards belongs somewhere on a Best Throw list, not quite the Eli Manning-to-Mario Manningham connection in Super Bowl XLVI but impressive for its degree of difficulty.
Jones felt pressure straight up the middle and instantly relied on his training and footwork drills, sidestepping to his left just enough to give himself an open passing lane. He reset his body and put the pass where only Hodgins and not cornerback Patrick Peterson could make a play. Hodgins made a tremendous leaping grab, but in big spots in big games, that is what it takes and it is the job of the quarterback to give his target a chance.
There was another play with more subtle excellence from Jones. It came in the opening drive of the third quarter with the Giants on the Vikings’ 44-yard line. Jones on first down took the shotgun snap and looked over the middle for his first read. When he did not like what he saw, Jones without hesitating quickly came off that read — a real sign of progress. A sprint-out to the right gave Jones plenty of space and he bought enough time for Hodgins, lined up wide right, to make an in-cut to get linebacker Eric Kendricks leaning the wrong way. With Kendricks in full chase mode, Jones put the pass on target and Hodgins had no trouble darting to the right sideline to motor 32 yards before he went out of bounds at the 12-yard line.
“He led us,’’ Hodgins said. “He’s a field general. I’m just happy to be a part of it.’’
They are all part of it, no one more so than the vastly improved Daniel Jones.
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