So much was better in 2019 than in 2020.
Including Daniel Jones.
It was almost exactly one year ago — Dec. 22, 2019 — that Jones flipped a 3-yard pass to tight end Kaden Smith to give the Giants a 41-35 overtime victory over Washington at FedEx Field. Yes, the final result meant Washington, and not the Giants, were locked in with the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft. Yes, it meant Washington, and not the Giants, was in position to select Chase Young out of Ohio State. Yes, it meant the Giants missed out on a premier pass rusher. But coming out of that day, it sure as heck looked as if the Giants found their next franchise quarterback and nothing is more important than that.
Jones threw for 352 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. He never really embraced the “Danny Dimes” moniker — his teammates prefer “DJ” — but one of the knocks on him coming out of Duke — a big guy with a so-so arm — was put to rest during an impressive first NFL season. He became the first rookie quarterback in NFL history with more than one game with 300-plus passing yards and at least four touchdown passes. Jones had three of them.
The guy fumbled too much but he could throw it, could run it and get his team in the end zone. The winning part figured to follow. The arrow was unequivocally up on a player taken with the No. 6-overall pick — a pick that chagrined the majority of the fan base.
One year later, chagrin is back in town. The production is gone, the arrow is leaning and Jones is hurting. The 2020 vision of Daniel Jones is clouded, at best, and it will be extremely alarming if what we have already seen from him in year No. 2 is all there is until next year.
Jones missed two of the last three games, first with a strained right hamstring and then with a sprained left ankle added to the hamstring issue. There is no guarantee Jones will get green-lighted to play Sunday in Baltimore. As we have seen, if Jones cannot run, he cannot play and Colt McCoy is the better option.
Maybe Jones gets the start, maybe he waits a week and returns for the season-finale against the Cowboys. This was always a funky playoff push for the always sub-.500 Giants, and no one in the organization is rushing Jones back in to salvage the NFC East.
If this is all there is of Jones in 2020 — oy vey. He has completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 2,462 yards, with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. The only discernable improvement came in his still-suspect ball security — 18 fumbles in 13 games as a rookie, 10 fumbles in 12 games this season. He had a new offense to master and all sorts of disadvantages with that learning process because of remote COVID-19 restrictions. His best stretch was a three-game winning streak in which he threw for 212, 244 and 213 yards and a total of one touchdown pass. He did not have any turnovers in those three games. It was as if Jones bypassed medical school and took the Hippocratic Oath: “First do no harm.’’
It felt like this new coaching staff started from scratch with the 23-year-old. All that verve and play-making Jones showed as a rookie? Gone. There are those in the front office who have talked to him about not feeling as if he has to carry the team, the way he tried to do at Duke. There is belief in his talent and his makeup and his athletic ability. But all involved would like to see more of it before closing shop for the season.
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski said. “I just respect so much of him, how he works, how important it is to him to get it right, how much he loves football, how much he studies and all of that.”
Whenever Eli Manning struggled early in his career, there were moans and groans about his, well, Eli look. There is plenty of hangdog in Jones. His teammates swear by his leadership traits and Jones keeps them hidden behind closed doors.
“He’s hard to get to know,” Schuplinski said. “I’m still trying to get to know him and I spend all kinds of time with him. I’m kind of joking about that, but he is a very serious guy and he’s very serious about what he does.”
There are plenty of fans who preferred Dwayne Haskins out of Ohio State ahead of Jones. How is that looking right about now? The Giants are not feeling buyer’s remorse, but their conviction leading into this offseason cannot be as bullish as it was one year ago. All in all, 2020, begone.