Antoine Bethea’s first NFL game was Manning Bowl I.
Recently drafted by the Colts, the rookie safety broke up Eli’s pass intended for Plaxico Burress on the final play of the 2006 season opener to seal a 26-21 victory over the Giants. Peyton led Indianapolis to a championship that season and was named Super Bowl MVP. The following year, Eli won the award, his first of two, and both quarterbacks were destined to start for their respective teams forever.
Then football happened.
In 2011, Peyton missed the entire season due to a neck injury while Eli went on to hoist his second Lombardi Trophy following another victory over the Patriots. Peyton was cut a month later to make room for Andrew Luck, the 2012 first overall pick who retired less than a month ago due to a grueling injury cycle, and had a second act for the ages with the Broncos.
On Tuesday, Giants coach Pat Shurmur announced that rookie Daniel Jones would become the starting quarterback of the team, effective immediately. On Wednesday, Eli, a healthy 38-year-old, led the scout team in practice as the 0-2 Giants prepared for their Week 3 road game in Tampa. Bethea has started 199 postseason and regular-season games, 45 fewer than Eli and 199 more than Jones, but days like today still surprise him to some extent.
“Yeah, but on the other hand, you just know it’s going to happen eventually,” Bethea said. “Eventually it’s going to happen. When I was in Indy, you never thought that Peyton was going to retire not being a Colt. You thought that he was going to be there forever, but things happen. Things happen. It’s a business, and some things you’ve just got to work through.”
The Giants drafted Jones sixth overall for this moment, although they didn’t know when it would be.
“Listen, I really believe this, it doesn’t make a difference who you’re talking about, at the end of the day, it’s going to be clear,” general manager Dave Gettleman said at the start of training camp. “When anything happens, you’ve got to, don’t lock your knees and just go.”
“I think it was just my gut that it was time to make that move,” Shurmur said today. “I think when you draft a guy like we did, at some point, this was going to happen. I felt like this was the time.”
There is a perception by some that turning to Jones means the Giants are waving the flag on the 2019 season, which began 10 days ago.
“Again, that’s a narrative that I don’t understand,” Shurmur said. “We’re on to playing Tampa Bay. I don’t want to steal somebody else’s phrase, but we are on to playing Tampa Bay and that’s where our focus is in the 2019 season. We all realize there’s a lot of football left to play, and you can see the uncertainty a team faces each week. You get a little juice, you win a football game, who knows what’s going to happen.”
Bethea backed up his coach.
“No, no, I don’t think so because Daniel, he’s very capable,” said Bethea, who was voted as a defensive co-captain in his first year with the Giants. “He’s very capable of making all the throws and making plays, so it’s just a decision that the coaches made. I don’t think it’s one of those things where, ‘Oh, we’re going to just try to see where our future is.’ Even though he is the future of this franchise, I just think it’s one of those things where, ‘Put him in there, see if you can get a spark, and we’ll see where it can go from there.’”
First-team reps are nothing new for Jones, who spent time with the starters in training camp. He also played behind the starting line at times in the preseason, when he completed 85.3 percent of his passes, averaged 12.2 yards per attempt, and posted a 137.3 passer rating with two touchdowns to no interceptions.
“It’s his whole demeanor,” Bethea said. “Even in the preseason, where he would go in there, a lot of reps with the ones, and made all the throws and was able to command the offense. Obviously being a rookie quarterback, there’s going to be some things that he hasn’t seen before. Of course, that just comes with the game, but I think he’s going to be fine.”