Somewhere, Dave Gettleman is smiling.
New York Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones ran roughshod over critics who mocked his selection as the No. 6 pick in the NFL draft on Sunday with a remarkable debut against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
At halftime, the Bucs led 28-10 in what looked like another disappointing outing for the Giants. When it was over, Jones had tallied 4 total touchdowns and led a second-half rally to secure a 32-31 victory in his NFL debut.
The Bucs looked poised to spoil the moment, but kicker Matt Gay missed a would-be game-winning 34-yard field goal wide right as time expired.
Jones leads game-winning drive
Jones capped the second-half rally by leading the game-winning touchdown drive that started at the Giants 25-yard line with 3:16 remaining.
He methodically marched the Giants down the field before scrambling seven yards for the score on a busted pass play on fourth-and-five to take the lead with 1:16 left.
Bucs rally falls short
The Bucs answered by getting into field goal range thanks in large part to a 44-yard connection from Jameis Winston to Mike Evans. But Gay’s miss ensured that Jones’ debut would be a complete success.
Jones ended the day with a 112.7 passer rating, completing 23-of-36 attempts for 336 yards and a pair of touchdowns through the air. He also led the Giants in rushing with 28 yards on four rushes that included a pair of touchdowns.
He lost two fumbles on sacks that amounted to his only blemishes on an otherwise outstanding debut.
It wasn’t all good news in New York, as running back Saquon Barkley left the game in the first half and returned to the sideline in a walking boot after halftime, ruled out with a sprained ankle. X-Rays were negative, and he’s scheduled for an MRI on Monday.
But even an injury to the Giants’ most talented player couldn’t dampen the spirits of Jones’ coming-out party.
Jones shows off wheels
Jones showed to be an immediate upgrade over Eli Manning in the ground game for his first NFL score.
Facing second-and-goal from the seven-yard line early in the second quarter, the Giants drew up an option play for Jones. He faked a handoff to Barkley and ran to the right past a pair of hopelessly chasing Bucs defenders to find the corner of the end zone.
The score cut Tampa’s lead to 12-10 and marked a milestone for Jones with a play that Manning almost certainly wouldn’t have made.
It was Jones’ second successful run play of the drive after he scrambled for 11 yards on a third-and-five to keep the scoring drive alive.
There are a lot of questions about what Jones will bring to the Giants after Manning manned the position for 15-plus seasons. But there’s little doubt he’ll add a mobile dynamic replacing a quarterback who’s tallied a total of seven rushing touchdowns over the course of his career.
Jones followed up his touchdown with a costly turnover two possessions later. On first-and-10 at the Giants 45, Jones faced pressure and fumbled on a sack from Tampa Bay linebacker Shaq Barrett. It was one of four sacks on the day for Barrett, two of which forced fumbles from Jones.
Tampa Bay recovered and scored three plays later on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Jameis Winston to Mike Evans to take a 25-10 lead.
Jones’ 1st passing touchdown is a doozy
Jones didn’t take any time to log his first passing touchdown in the second half, finding tight end Evan Engram for a 75-yard touchdown on the first first play from scrimmage.
With Barkley sidelined, the Giants let Jones rip on a play-action fake to running back Wayne Gallman. He found a streaking Engram 15 yards downfield over the middle. Engram did the rest, outracing Bucs defenders down the sideline to secure Jones’ first score through the air.
A completion to Sterling Shepard for the two-point conversion cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 28-18.
Jones shows off big arm to set up second passing TD
Jones continued to impress on the next Giants drive, showing off his mobility and big arm on a deep pass to fellow rookie Darius Slayton.
Facing pressure from Carl Nassib on first-and-10 at the 50, Jones stepped up in the pocket to find Slayton streaking down the middle on a post route. He launched a bomb 40 yards in the air that Slayton corralled before being dragged down at the four-yard line.
Two plays later, Jones found Shepard on the right sideline in the end zone, lofting a perfect pass over double coverage for the touchdown to cut Tampa Bay’s lead to 28-25.
The Bucs responded with a field goal for their only score of the second half, eventually setting up Jones for the first game-winning touchdown drive of his NFL career.
Vindication for Gettleman?
The drafting of Jones and benching of Manning after Week 2 both arrived with, fanfare, much of it negative.
Gettleman, who made the controversial decision to draft Jones at No. 6, has taken a considerable amount of heat, much of it warranted.
But Jones’ performance on Sunday is a satisfying slice of vindication for the embattled Giants general manager. He’s made his fair share of questionable calls. But with Jones, all signs point to his getting this one right.
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