What Giants’ Daniel Jones needs to do against the Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas — Twelve years ago, after Eli Manning had defeated the Cowboys in the first game at AT&T Stadium, he signed his name on the wall of the visitors’ locker room, below which he added: “9-20-09, ‘33-31’ First Win in the New Stadium.”

Now it is Daniel Jones who will get his chance, at a signature moment in his Giants career, for a signature victory over the Cowboys.

With Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott balling the way he is, the Giants will undoubtedly be asking Jones to pick up where he left off in New Orleans, at the end of a week in which he earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors and a segment on “The Rich Eisen Show.”

Though no one should expect another 402-yard passing performance, Giants fans who want so badly to believe in Jones as Manning’s heir today, not gone tomorrow, will be imploring:

Play it again, Dan.

What can Jones do for an encore?

How about this: If and when the game is there to be won in the fourth quarter, or in overtime, go win it again.

It would offer more meaningful evidence that Jones is beginning to grow up before our eyes if he were to take that critical third-year leap.

It was on the horrific day last season, when Prescott suffered his compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle, that the game was there to be won by the Giants in the fourth quarter, but Jones could not win it: tie game, Jones at his 24, 1:50 and one timeout remaining. Final: Cowboys 37, Giants 34.

“We gotta find a way to win the game,” Jones said afterward.

Against Prescott and his arsenal of prolific weapons, Jones might be forced to win a shootout, the kind former Cowboys quarterback Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman is on record as doubting Jones and the Giants can win.

But Jones is better equipped this time.

Daniel Jones
Daniel Jones
Corey Sipkin

He didn’t have Saquon Barkley last year. He didn’t have Kenny Golladay last year. He didn’t have Kadarius Toney. He didn’t have John Ross. He had just four games in coordinator Jason Garrett’s offense. He didn’t have an offensive line that could keep him upright. He might have one now, even with a new center and a fourth left guard — TBD, of course.

The signs of growth and maturation from Jones are unmistakable. His lone interception was a Hail Mary at the end of the first half against the Saints. His lone lost fumble came in the opener against the Broncos.

He is making the right play at the right time … with his arm and with his legs. He knows when to throw the ball away and move on to the next play. He is seeing the field better. He is learning the nuances of quarterback play … looking off a ball-hawking safety like Marcus Williams, the way Jones did on the Ross TD bomb in New Orleans.

“He’s understanding what the goals are for each play that’s called, where he wants to go with the ball, but then also sometimes where he needs to go with the ball based on it,” quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski said.

Giants defensive coordinator Pat Graham looked as if he could have used a shot of tequila reading from a sheet of Cowboys playmakers on Thursday. But on offense, with a healthier Barkley, Jones has a dual threat to counter Ezekiel Elliott. With the emerging chemistry between him and Golladay, he has a big target to counter Amari Cooper. With an emerging chess piece like Toney, he has a home run threat to counter a chess piece like CeeDee Lamb. With an emerging Andrew Thomas, he has a chance to have the blindside comfort in the pocket that Prescott has behind Tyron Smith.

“You make the environment better,” Garrett said, “all of a sudden, the guy starts to play better and better.”

When a quarterback’s receivers win quickly, he can get the ball out faster. When the offensive line gives the quarterback time, he can take shots downfield. Jones has been sacked just eight times this season. He was sacked 45 times in 14 games last season. His completion percentages starting in 2019: 61.9; 62.5; 66.7. The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone. The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone. The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone. Or something like that.

“I think we’re working on getting better as a whole entire offensive unit,” Schlupinski said.

It will be loud and hostile inside Jerry World, where they hate the New York Football Giants, and Daniel Jones will again need to summon every ounce of his poise and mental toughness and resilience and command to be the Last Jones Standing in what figures to be a 60-minute Texas death match.

“I certainly need to play better and to put the team in position to win,” Jones told Eisen.

Yet he had his career game last week and did more than put the team in position to win. He carried the team. Against Prescott, the Giants might need him to do it again.

What can Jones do for an encore?

Play it again, Dan.

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