EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Pat Shurmur led the way down one hallway, then another, before settling on a near-empty office inside the New York Giants’ headquarters. With a quiet space finally secured, the head coach took a seat behind a large desk and leaned back in a swivel chair.
His ever-stoic expression offered no inkling of the array of emotions experienced over the past 72 hours.
The tension that preceded a close victory.
The relief of winning the first game of the season.
Just hours earlier, Daniel Jones had earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance Sunday against Tampa Bay. And yet, Shurmur’s demeanor remained as routine as any other ordinary Wednesday. There was no edge in his voice, no snarkiness, no puffed-out chest as he sat with his arms resting behind his head.
In a moment primed for the ultimate, “I told you so,” Shurmur was as even-keeled and measured as the new face of the franchise.
To the outside world, Jones’ impressive showing against the Bucs — 336 passing yards, plus a pair of passing touchdowns and a pair of rushing TDs, including a game-winning 7-yard score up the middle — was a statement game. Not only for him, but for the front office that was ridiculed for believing so much in Jones’ ability that it used the sixth-overall pick to draft him in April.
But, at least publicly, Shurmur, insisted that Jones’ first NFL start (and the Giants’ 32-31 victory) provided no sense of vindication or relief.
“I don’t live my life that way,” Shurmur told Yahoo Sports after Wednesday's practice. “I don’t really feel like we need him to be successful to prove people wrong.
“We know what we thought. And we believe in what we saw. And that’s why we were happy he was able to go out and have success. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, he showed you.’ That’s not the way we function here. Because if you function that way, then what you’re saying is you care outside the building what people think. And it’s the same trap, if they say good or they say bad. I don’t worry about that. It wasn’t relief. I was happy for the guys in the room, that we found a way to win a game.”
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The Giants have traversed the delicate tight rope of transitioning from a franchise legend to a newbie. And while the changing of the guard in East Rutherford was, perhaps, overdue (and, at times, awkwardly mishandled), the changeover is finally complete. Shurmur’s decision to bench Eli Manning — their 38-year-old, two-time Super Bowl champion and leader the past 14 seasons — reset the direction of the organization and injected life into a listless offense and much-needed energy into their locker room. But, according to Shurmur, there was no one moment in particular that caused him to hand over the team to Jones. It simply felt right, he said.
“It was my gut,” the coach said. “That’s your second brain. And my gut said that it was time. And he had a significant impact in our win. So it worked out.”
A different vibe now filters through the hallways of the Giants’ building.
A distinctive buzz.
A feeling that something special is on the horizon.
And, in time, Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman will learn whether or not their fateful decision in April was truly the best move for the organization — and their job security.
For now, though, the Giants and Jones are focused on the task at hand: defeating the Washington Redskins.
Jones, who will make his MetLife Stadium debut Sunday, said he isn’t worried about his newfound celebrity. He remains the same as he was a little more than a week ago, back when he was just Manning’s backup: Measured. Humble. Unassuming.
“It’s the same thing,” Jones said, when asked about the attention he’s now garnering as the starter. “I go home and then I come into work every day.”
This city once rode the emotional roller coaster of Mark Sanchez’s tenure, nicknaming him “The Sanchize” along the way, and was later enthralled by flashes of the Geno Smith era. So much optimism surrounded these two former Jets’ draft-picks that the New York Daily News used the backpage headline, “A Star Is Born,” for each quarterback. Now, Jones — who’s still adjusting to his “Danny Dimes” moniker — joins current Jets starter Sam Darnold as another Big Apple star in the making.
Jones’ top 10-selection was so stunning that he was booed by Giants fans across the Tri-State area when his name was called on draft night. Even some of his Giants teammates weren’t fully on board with the pick. But the former Duke star quickly won over the locker room with his preparation and his play.
That’s why few people inside the building were surprised by his performance against the Bucs. It was just a continuation of what they’d witnessed this past offseason.
“The biggest thing is coming in and doing your job, but doing it at a high level,” veteran safety Michael Thomas told Yahoo Sports. “That earns the respect of everybody from the jump and you don’t have to say a word. That’s literally what the story of ‘D.J.’ was for us.
“We were practicing in the offseason, doing routes, and he is consistently just slicing and dicing and making it look easy. Not looking stressed, not looking like a rookie. Not talking noise or nothing. And you’d be in perfect coverage and he’s just dropping the ball where his receivers can catch it and he’s doing it constantly. It was like, ‘Whoa. Either this is a fluke or this kid can really play.’ … If you can play, guys are going to respect you. And from Day 1, everybody was like, ‘OK. The kid can play.’”
Now, the question is: What will the kid do for an encore?
While grateful for the support he has received from family, friends and teammates, Jones is fixated on the areas of his game that still need improvement. Namely, ball security. (He fumbled twice against the Bucs.) It’s his work ethic and never-satisfied attitude that those around him find most endearing.
Shurmur acknowledged areas in which Jones must get better, but he also praised the quarterback's decision-making — “How he handles his life. How he goes about his day. How he studies. All the way down to where he throws the ball,” he explained — as well as Jones’ timing and accuracy.
The coach also stressed two other key attributes.
“There’s things about him, as a person, that I admire and that’s why I think he’s going to have a chance to be successful,” Shurmur said. “At the top of all of this, I think he’s tough. And at the top of all this, I think he has great poise. And I think that’s what you need from people and players in positions of authority. They have to be tough and they have to have poise. Because if they don’t, they’ll get rattled and then the people around them will see that.”
A short time later, Jones stood on the back patio of the facility overlooking the practice field, fielding questions from a playoff-size crowd of reporters. From there, he would do a TV interview, answering questions about his nickname preference, “Danny Dimes” or “D.J.,” and then he ended his media obligations with one final one-on-one request.
As the 22-year-old discussed the added responsibilities that come with his new high-profile role and stressed the importance of remaining solely focused on football, a sudden thud interrupted his train of thought.
A large, shadowy figure — pressed against one of the cafeteria windows overlooking the patio — suddenly came into focus. Jones smiled at the player, whose face was hidden from view, but whose stomach was squished against the glass.
If the goal was to rattle the Giants quarterback, it didn’t work.
Without missing a beat, the rookie resumed his conversation.
“As a team, it was big for us to get the first win and build off of it,” Jones said, sounding like a carbon copy of his predecessor. “Individually, that’s kind of my mindset: to find a way to build off of it. There’s a number of things I need to do better and that’s what I’m focused on this week. Just being consistent and being the best version of myself I can be.”
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