EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When the NFL schedule was released in April, the Giants likely never suspected their visit to Tampa Bay Sunday to face the Buccaneers could be a pivotal game in franchise history.
But in Raymond James Stadium, a new era will begin when highly-touted Daniel Jones will make his first NFL start, and Eli Manning officially relinquishes the Giants quarterback job that he has held for 15+ seasons.
"You never really know when something like this is going to happen," Jones said. "My job is to be ready and to continue to improve. I feel like I have been able to do that."
So does coach Pat Shurmur, who made the momentous decision to demote the best quarterback in Giants history and elevate Jones, the sixth overall selection in this year's draft, from Duke. The Giants are 0-2 and Shurmur believes Jones now gives them a better chance to win.
"To this point, I think it's safe to say in our minds he has checked off all the boxes in everything we have asked him to do," Shurmur said. "We'll get him ready to go play, put a plan together that he can utilize, and we'll go to work."
To the Giants players, the quarterback position has been handed from one lowkey, cerebral player to another, albeit one with much less experience and much more mobility. But those who have worked closely with Jones believes the first-round draft choice is prepared to succeed.
"He's a unique guy," said offensive coordinator Mike Shula. "We've got some unique guys in that quarterback room. His demeanor doesn't change much. He's been really good, he's on top of the things that - you can kind of see with young guys sometimes where there's a little bit of hesitation with their answer or maybe sometimes out on the field - but so far, he's been really good throughout."
"I think he's been very consistent, more so than maybe any other young guy I've been around, with everything that we've asked him to do. Maybe if it's just doing it a little bit differently here or there, he works on it, gets it done, and he's been so well-coached in college, it's made a lot of things for us easier here, and I think it's helped him get himself in position to have a good training camp, play well as we all saw, and hopefully that will carry over on Sunday."
Jones had a good week of practice taking reps with the starters.
"I saw a week of practice that's been very familiar to us behind the scenes," Shurmur said. "So, good."
Manning is arguably the most beloved player in Giants history, a two-time Super Bowl MVP who has also given his time, energy and money to numerous charitable and community causes. He was the NFL's co-Man of the Year (with Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald) in 2016.
But Jones isn't looking at the big picture or pondering the ramifications of replacing a franchise and NFL icon. He is interested only in paying well and beating the Bucs.
"I feel like I'm ready to embrace it," he said. "I think focusing on what we're doing here, focusing on what we're doing in the building and our preparation with my teammates, with my coaches. Narrowing that focus to being here in the moment in this week, I think, is important with that. I feel like I can embrace that, and I am looking forward to the opportunity.
"(Being) here in the building with my teammates, my coaches, everybody in the building part of this organization, I think, is what will be key to my success with that. I understand the responsibility, I understand the challenge, but I'm certainly looking forward to it."
Jones started 36 games at Duke – he was 17-19 – is familiar with the routine, rhythms and responsibilities of being No. 1. The ACC is not the NFL, but the expectations remain the same.
"Anybody that's in that position, we expect to help us win football games," Shula said. "But … don't try to do too much, don't think you have to make plays down the field here or there. Our expectations for him are just to make the right decisions. As we've talked in the past, I think that position comes down to three things when you're throwing the football: go to the right guy with the football, get the ball there on time, and get the ball there accurately. So, you've got to kind of stay in that world and try to block out all the other things. Now, there's a lot of things that we train hard in the meantime to help accomplish that, but that's what it's going to come down to."
No matter what happens, it's going to be a memorable day in Giants history.
*The Giants and Buccaneers are meeting for the third year in a row and the fourth time in five seasons. The last two games between the teams were decided by a total of five points. Last Nov. 18 in MetLife Stadium, the Giants held a 17-point third-quarter lead before holding on for a 38-35 victory. On Oct. 1, 2017 in Raymond James Stadium, Nick Folk kicked a 34-yard field goal as time expired to give the Bucs a 25-23 victory. That broke the Giants' five-game winning streak in the series, including one victory in the postseason. The Giants lead the series, 14-7 and are 4-3 in Raymond James Stadium, including a postseason victory in 2007.
Giants vs. Buccaneers Broadcast Info: TV channel, Radio Station and Live Stream.
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