The Quarterback of the Future is an endangered species. As soon as the Quarterback of the Future is deemed ready, he becomes the Quarterback of the Present.
Daniel Jones will be starting his 23rd game since replacing Eli Manning. Manning beat the Raiders in the 2005 regular-season finale to clinch a division title in his 23rd start.
Daniel Jones cannot clinch a division title against the Bengals on Sunday. But it is incumbent upon him now to lead the charge toward one.
The NFC Least is there for the taking, and Joe Judge will need the best of Daniel Jones to take it.
Manning was 12-11 after his first 23 games, with Tiki Barber running the ball behind trusted offensive linemen, and Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer and Jeremy Shockey catching it, and Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora and Antonio Pierce on defense, and an experienced Tom Coughlin on the sideline.
Jones is 6-16 with a lesser supporting cast, but there are no excuses for him not to leave Paul Brown Stadium 7-16.
The truth of the matter is it would be unacceptable.
Coaches remind us all the time that football is a team sport. But it is the quarterback who drives the sport. And the Bengals’ quarterback on Sunday — no disrespect intended — is Brandon Allen.
And as much as Joe Judge understandably tried to make him out to be a clear and present danger, he is not Josh Allen, even though he does have an impressive group of targets. Brandon Allen is a journeyman. He has thrown 84 NFL passes (three touchdowns, two interceptions), all last season. He was the Jaguars’ sixth-round draft choice in 2016. Jones was the sixth pick in 2019.
It means that Jones gives the Giants a big advantage at the most important position.
At a time when he has begun to ascend thanks to escaping the clutches of an alarming sophomore jinx and is protecting the football and getting the hang of Jason Garrett’s offense, at a time when the Giants have risen to 3-7 from 1-7 and have been gifted this unexpected playoff race, he needs to show up as The Cincinnati Kid.
Patrick Mahomes raised the bar for all young franchise quarterbacks in his first year as Chiefs starter in 2018. The precociousness of a Joe Burrow and a Justin Herbert places Jones under a bigger microscope and a brighter spotlight. Patience is not a virtue for the immediate-gratification crowd.
The exciting promise that Jones (24 TDs, 12 INTs) displayed as a rookie following in Manning’s giant footsteps was besmirched to some degree by his 18 fumbles, 11 of which he lost. But he had shown enough accuracy, mobility, physical and mental toughness, leadership and poise to convince the Giants hierarchy when the season ended that they had found their new Mann.
“I think we’ve got the answer at quarterback,” John Mara said.
“We didn’t know he’d come that fast,” Dave Gettleman said.
And on the eve of the 2020 season, this was Mara: “I’d like to see him take the next step this year. I’m confident that he will do that.
“He showed a lot of grit and a lot of promise, made a lot of big plays, and I think with the right supporting cast around him. I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
The sky began falling when all the ball-security drills Jones had put himself through over the virtual offseason weren’t paying dividends. He went four consecutive games without a TD pass. For the season, he has thrown eight TDs, with nine INTs. For his career, he has 32 TDs against 21 INTs with 25 fumbles, 15 of them lost. Manning at the same stage had thrown 30 TDs against 26 INTs, with 10 fumbles, five of them lost.
How Jones uses his legs as a weapon marks the biggest difference between them. Manning had rushed 35 times for 85 yards and one TD after his first 23 games. Jones is 94-663 with three TDs — and it should have been four scores, but the turf monster at the Linc took care of that.
Phil Simms didn’t begin winning over Giants faithful until his sixth season. Manning wasn’t fully embraced by Giants fans didn’t until his Super Bowl XLII run at the end of his fourth season.
Jones has this sudden chance now to rally the fan base to his side earlier. He will be the better quarterback in three of these last six games — starting with Allen, then Baker Mayfield, then Andy Dalton in the regular-season finale that could decide the division winner.
Jones doesn’t have to apologize for 3-7. He’ll have to apologize for 3-8. He has never won three consecutive games.
The future is now.
Because now is the time for him to make that second-year leap.