Joe Judge has not been bashful in his support of Daniel Jones. For two weeks straight, he's made it clear he believes the Giants have found their long-term franchise quarterback.
"You always want to know about, 'Is Daniel our guy? Are we going forward with Daniel?'" Judge said, unprompted, on Monday. "The answer is: Absolutely."
That's a heck of a leap of faith by the rookie head coach in his struggling, second-year quarterback.
Now would be a good time for Jones to prove him -- and the entire Giants organization -- right.
What an ending that would be to what has been a mostly terrible year for the 23-year-old, if he could lead the Giants to victory in what is an elimination game at home against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon. It would erase the stench of the lack of progress he's shown this season and make everyone forget, for a moment, that he's statistically one of the worst quarterbacks in the league.
All he has to do is what good quarterbacks are supposed to do: Win a big game, carry his team, and rise to the occasion when everything is on the line. This is a moment, like it or not, that could tell everyone a lot about what kind of quarterback Jones is going to be.
Maybe that's a lot to put on a young player in just one game, but the stakes are that high when it comes to NFL quarterbacks. The right choice can set up a franchise for a decade or more. The wrong choice can set a franchise back five years and cost coaches and general managers their jobs.
And so far the jury is out on whether the Giants were right or wrong to select Jones with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Clearly they were right to choose him over Dwayne Haskins, the quarterback so many thought they should have taken, and who was just released by the Washington Football Team on Monday afternoon.
But whether Jones was "right" overall is unclear thanks this shaky season. After showing so much promise as a rookie, he’s stumbled in his second season, throwing for just 2,714 yards and nine touchdowns with nine interceptions in 13 games.
Those are really pathetic numbers compared to quarterbacks around the NFL. So is the performance of the offense under his direction, which averages a humiliating 297 yards and 17 points per game -- worse than every team but the Jets. Jones isn't the sole reason for that. It surely hasn't helped that he lost Saquon Barkley in Week 2, that he's taken a beating behind his offensive line and that his receivers don't get much separation.
But quarterbacks are supposed to rise above their circumstances and help make those around them better -- certainly much more so than Jones has so far.
Judge insisted that Jones has shown improvement this season, that when he looks at the tape of his last few games he sees a better quarterback than he saw earlier in the season. Quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski praised Jones for cutting down on his turnovers, avoiding sacks by getting rid of the ball quicker, and being much better in the way he reads defenses and anticipates each play.
And that's great. But the bar should be higher at the end of his second season, where he sits with a grand total of 33 touchdown passes in 25 starts. He also has led an offense that has averaged 19.5 points per game under his direction over two seasons, and owns a dismal record of 7-18 as a starter. The Giants aren't concerned nor are they anywhere near ready to move on, but at some point he's got to give them a tangible sign that they're making the right choice to stand by his side.
Which is why Sunday's game is so important. Ernie Accorsi, the former Giants GM who made the draft-day trade in 2004 for Eli Manning, always said you evaluate quarterbacks by one measurement: "Can they take their team down the field, with the championship on the line, and into the end zone?" That wasn't just about winning a game on the final drive. It was about being able to get it done in big spots.
The Giants don't know that about Jones yet. He wasn't awful in a relatively big spot in Baltimore last Sunday (24 of 41, 252 yards, one touchdown), but the Giants scored 13 points so he clearly didn't get it done.
This, though, could be his moment to do it. If he finally lights up the scoreboard, gets the offense moving, and puts up the kind of numbers we see from quarterbacks all over the league, it'll change the tone of his season whether the Giants get into the playoffs or not. It will make everyone remember the promise he showed. It will prove that he really can rise the occasion when it matters most.
Yes, it's only one game. But it's a really big game. It's the kind of game that franchise quarterbacks are supposed to be made for, the kind where the truly great ones thrive. Not always, of course. Manning was terrible in his first playoff game in his second season. But at least by then he had already helped his team get there.
Jones, so far, hasn't done much of anything for the Giants except give them an occasional flicker of hope that he will be better in the future. But if he really is going to be better, if he's going to prove to be a worthy successor to Manning, this Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, with a division championship on the line, would be a wonderful place to start.