EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of arguably the most newsworthy job transfer in Giants history, when Daniel Jones replaced 16-year starter Eli Manning as the team's starting quarterback.
Jones' 12 months in the driver's seat has had its share of to-be-expected ups and downs. He keyed a spectacular comeback victory in his debut at Tampa Bay, threw five touchdown passes in an overtime triumph in Washington and led all rookie quarterbacks last year by throwing for 24 scores. But he also led the NFL with 11 lost fumbles and his 23 turnovers - including 12 interceptions – placed him in a four-way tie for second.
The mixed performance continued in Monday night's 26-16 season-opening loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jones threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns, but also tossed a pair of interceptions.
Coach Joe Judge has pledged his full confidence in Jones. Judge has some experience at the position, having entered Mississippi State University as a reserve quarterback (though he played primarily on special teams). He spent his first eight NFL seasons as a New England Patriots assistant, watching Tom Brady. Close observation of perhaps the most successful quarterback in history gave him an appreciation of not how performing well at the position can be so easy for some players, but how difficult it is for everyone.
"I think you have to keep in mind with young quarterbacks in this league, playing quarterback in the National Football League is the toughest job in professional sports, simply put," Judge said today. "You can try to debate that one way or another, I could argue all day long. That's the toughest job in professional sports. You look at the truly great ones that have come through our league, without naming names, just think real carefully about how many of those guys were able to have high degrees of success before they had to truly carry a team? Think about those real great ones that are going to be wearing gold jackets that have played in this league for call it 15 to 20 years. How many of those guys had the benefit of working with teams that were carried more by defense or the run game or a great arsenal of guys around him that supported him?"
View photos of Giants quarterback Daniel Jones
Judge would be thrilled if Jones made the correct read and a pinpoint throw to an open target each time he dropped back to pass. But he also knows his 23-year-old quarterback is a work in progress, as are his mostly young teammates.
"I'm very confident in our team going forward," Judge said. "I'll just say this specifically on Daniel, obviously there are some things you have to clean up every game. I'll tell you right now, you watch that tape from the other night, that dude stood in there like a man and delivered that ball down the field. That dude stood in there aggressively, he stood in there tough, stood in there confidently and our team feeds off that. We're proud to have him on our team."
What has Jones learned in the last 365 days about playing the game's most vital position for one of the league's most visible franchises?
"Certainly, a lot," he said. "I've learned a lot on the field playing football, scheme, understanding the game, a lot in how to prepare and get ready to play, and I think a lot of stuff in between. Ultimately, the importance of learning, the importance of improving every day, the importance of not repeating mistakes, continuing to build and constantly grow as a player, as a member of the team. I think that's ultimately what's most important, and I've certainly realized that in the last year. Most players know that. I think it's extremely important at this level.
"I understand the expectation and responsibility of playing quarterback and representing the New York Giants. I take that very seriously. I take that responsibility seriously. It's something I'm constantly learning and constantly understanding how to best do that."
The Giants will return to action Sunday against the 1-0 Chicago Bears in Soldier Field, where Jones threw for a season-low 150 yards last season. He lost a costly fumble that the Bears recovered and advanced to the Giants' three-yard line (in fairness, linebacker Khalil Mack was on him in an instant). Most importantly, the Giants scored only 14 points in a five-point loss.
Now Jones and the Giants are looking to rebound after another loss in which they scored just two touchdowns.
"It was certainly very clear to us as players when mistakes that we made were things we need to correct, and we did that," Jones said. "We did that together. I thought the communication was clear. Going out to practice today, I thought guys were on the same page and understood the urgency and the importance of each of those corrections. There were certainly good things from the game that we also discussed and obviously want to grow with and build on."
Jones began his short work week by reviewing the game last year against the Bears.
"I took a look at that game yesterday," he said. "There are possibly some similarities here and there. It's the same system on defense. Certainly, we're in a different system. I think you can take little pieces from it, but I expect they'll defend us and have a little bit of a different game plan this year with the new system. It's helpful to some extent, but we have to prepare for this week and use what they did this week, and then certainly other games from their season last year."
Aside from dissecting Chicago's defense, Jones made another noteworthy determination about his play at pro sport's most demanding position.
"I certainly feel like I've improved a lot since then,' he said. "I would hope I would have and hope to continue to improve."
When he does, he will take the Giants with him.
*Rookie linebacker Carter Coughlin, who played 12 special teams snaps in his NFL debut Monday night, did not practice today because of a hamstring injury. Wide receiver Golden Tate and rookie linebacker Tae Crowder, who were inactive vs. the Steelers, also missed practice with hamstring injuries.