EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When the Giants visited Washington last Dec. 22, Daniel Jones played the best game of his brief NFL tenure. He completed 28 of 42 passes for 352 yards, five touchdowns – including the overtime game-winner - and no interceptions in a 41-34 overtime victory.
Jones had a career-best 132.1 passer rating. He was the first Giants rookie to pass for five touchdowns and the first rookie in NFL history with at least 350 passing yards, five touchdown passes and zero interceptions in a game.
So, what does he recall about that game?
"Just that we battled down the stretch," Jones said this week. "We had a good game offensively. I think Saquon (Barkley) had 180 yards or something like that (189). He had a big game, too. We went back and forth. It came down to that overtime drive and we were able to get it done. Just the fight that we showed. We battled and kept coming back, and I think that was the difference in the game."
On Sunday, the Giants will play in FedExField for the first time since that memorable afternoon. They will lug a 1-7 record into their game with the Washington Football Team. But Jones said the team has played with the same fight they displayed last season and he and his teammates believe the season's second half will be much more successful.
The Giants' last four games, three of them losses, have been decided by a total of seven points, a first in the 96-year history of the franchise.
"We do feel like we are right there," Jones said. "It's been frustrating not to come out on top and win these close games. But we know we're there, we know we're capable of it. It's making a couple plays, avoiding a couple of bad plays. That's what it's going to take to get over the hump. We're encouraged by the fact that we're close, but we're certainly frustrated to not get the results. We have to use that to motivate us and help us learn what it's going to take to get there."
The offense has also made strides, recording its highest yardage totals of the season in each of the last two games – 325 at Philadelphia and 357 vs. Tampa Bay. The unit gained more than 300 yards three times in the last four games after not reaching that total once in the first four.
"I certainly feel like we're improving as a unit and executing better, moving the ball better," Jones said. "You can look at yardage, but I certainly think just from watching the film and knowing where we are. You compare where we were the first game of the season to now, I certainly feel like we've made a lot of progress as a unit."
Jones has completed 61.8% of his passes, essentially identical to his rookie rate. He has thrown for 1,666 yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions.
"I think I've improved," he said. "I feel more comfortable recognizing things defenses are doing and understanding where my answers are. I think there are still a lot of things I need to work on and improve on, and I'm working hard to do that. But I do feel like I've improved since last year."
He certainly has as a runner, largely out of necessity; the Giants have not had Barkley since he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2 in Chicago.
Jones is the Giants' leading rusher with 316 yards and a 9.5-yard per-carry average. It is the highest total by a Giants quarterback in the Super Bowl era and half the season remains – it's also 37 yards more than he gained in his debut season. Jones has ripped off 80 and 49-yard runs, also new standards for a franchise quarterback.
"I probably didn't expect to do that," Jones said. "But coach (Jason) Garrett (the offensive coordinator), his system and this offense has the ability to do a lot of different things and attack defenses a lot of different ways. That's one component of it. It's helpful for us, and I think it's a good part of the system.
"I'm excited for those opportunities. As a quarterback, your job is to primarily throw the ball. But I think the ability to run the ball, whether it's design runs or scrambling on third downs, that's an important part of the game. I'll certainly look to continue to do that."
Jones can be his own harshest critic. He knows the offense will become more efficient and productive when he reduces his turnovers. Jones threw two interceptions against Tampa Bay when it might have been wiser to throw the ball away. That would belie his makeup as both an athlete and quarterback but it's part of the growing process.
"Quarterbacks who are worth their salt have a playmaking instinct in them," Garrett said. "They want the ball in their hands and they want to be the guy who's guiding the offense but making an impact on what goes on on the field. I would say every quarterback I've been around who's been a really good player has that same instinct. Over time, you learn through experience what plays you simply have to fold on, and you have to get the ball out of your hand and live for another day. Whether it's punting on the drive or just simply going to second and 10, I think that's an important thing to understand. The more situations you're in, if you approach them the right way, you'll learn from those experiences. Daniel continued to do that. Most guys I've been around have gone through that very similar process."
Garrett was an NFL quarterback who played in 41 games with nine starts from 1993-2004. He was the Giants' backup from 2000-03. While he said, "I didn't have those playmaking capabilities that these guys have," Garrett had to learn the fundamentals and nuances of the position Jones is now developing. "Certainly, it's the same thing," Garrett said. "It's a mentality that you have to develop over time. We ask our quarterbacks to run our offense, make plays in the passing game, make plays with your feet. You're always balancing that with putting your team in a position where they can be successful. Taking care of the football is a big part of that. That's a process that I believe all quarterbacks go through. I certainly went through it at different points in my career."
As Jones is now.
"That's the challenge of playing the position and the importance of understanding the game, the bigger picture, and how each of those decisions play into the bigger game," Jones said. "That's the expectation. You watch all the quarterbacks that are doing it at a high level. They understand that stuff. They understand when to avoid the bad play, get it out of their hand or take a sack if they have to. I understand that's an important part of playing the position, of managing the opportunity and managing each play and understanding the larger context of the game."
Jones believes Garrett is an ideal mentor because he has faced the situations Jones is now navigating.
"It's extremely beneficial," Jones said. "I've learned a ton from coach Garrett about the position and how he sees it. He was an NFL quarterback for a long time. He's coached for a long time as well and has had a lot of success playing and coaching. He knows what it takes, he knows what it's supposed to look like. I feel like I've learned a ton with him and have really enjoyed working with him."
Jones is 3-0 as a starter vs. Washington but this week his focus was not on that success but on a defensive front that includes five former first-round draft choices.
"They have a lot of talent there," Jones said. "All players who can impact the game significantly and players you have to plan for to handle. I certainly play a big role in that. My ability to get the ball out quick and do that on a consistent basis for us will be important for this game. That's been a focus of ours. A large part of the strength of their team is in that front."
Should the Giants produce against that defense and earn another victory against Washington, they will have an opportunity to avenge a second division defeat when the Philadelphia Eagles visit MetLife Stadium.
"We've been in all of these games and we haven't gotten it done like we would have expected or hoped for at this point in the season," Jones said. "But I think through that, we've learned a lot and we've improved a lot. I think we're in a position to win those close games and to get over the hump. I'm excited to do that and looking forward to getting back out there."
*The "Bud Light Giants Gameday" radio pregame show will begin at 11:30 a.m. on WFAN 660 AM/101.9 FM and will stream live on Giants.com, the Giants mobile app, and "Giants TV" streaming app.
"Giants Postgame Live" presented by Mercedes-Benz can be heard immediately after the game - also on WFAN 660 AM/101.9 FM and streaming on Giants.com, the Giants mobile app, and "Giants TV" streaming app.
View rare photos of the all-time series between the New York Giants and the Washington Football Team.