Giants enter playoffs with Daniel Jones, who proved he belongs, to thank

Jan 1, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) drops back to pass during the first half against the Indianapolis Colts at MetLife Stadium.
Jan 1, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) drops back to pass during the first half against the Indianapolis Colts at MetLife Stadium. / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Daniel Jones deserved every second of this. Every last second.

The cast-off fourth-year passer was simply spectacular in the Giants38-10, playoff-berthing victory over the Colts on Sunday. He threw for 177 yards and two scores, rushing for 91 and another two. And now, in the waning moments, the home crowd was letting him feel their adoration.

It rained down from the 77,399 at MetLife Stadium. They screamed, they cheered, they chanted his name. Brian Daboll sent Jones on with mostly backups on the offense’s final possession, only to remove him two plays later, so that his quarterback could enjoy the curtain call.

And you know he did.

Nothing has come easy for Jones throughout his career. This marked the pinnacle of so many of those hardships.

The Giants are headed to the postseason.

And they have their quarterback to thank for it.

“It’s just exciting,” Jones said. “We’ve been through some tough times. To be on the other side of it is a lot of fun.”

Running back Saquon Barkley scoffed at the notion. He knows how calm, cool and collected Jones appears to the public. He’s no different with his teammates. The moment is never too big for the 25-year-old because he refuses to ever get too high, just like he refuses to ever get too low.

But those final moments at MetLife? Barkley knew his teammate loved that. How could he not?

It was Jones, after all, whom many clowned on when the Giants drafted him sixth overall in 2019. He hadn’t played a down before they labeled him a bust. Then-GM Dave Gettleman did nothing to help him over the ensuing three years. The Giants saddled him with poor coaching and even worse surrounding talent.

No, Jones wasn’t good. He battled poor decision making and turnovers. But what player would thrive in his circumstances? Still, he never made an excuse -- even after the Giants declined his fifth-year contract option. He kept working. He kept grinding. He kept attacking.

And, finally, it paid off.

“To me, he’s doing what I knew he always could do,” tackle Andrew Thomas said of Jones. “I felt like he always had the tools to be successful. I think people are starting to realize that now. I’m proud of the way he’s playing.”

Barkley, whose 58 yards on Sunday set a single-season career high in rushing (1,312 yards), is remarkable. So too is this Giants coaching staff. Daboll should be Coach of the Year, while Wink Martindale deserves assistant honors for the work he’s done with New York’s defense.

But the most consistent piece to this playoff-bound Giants team is Jones. You can make the case, the second half of the season, he has been their best player.

Jones has completed 317 of 472 passes for 3,205 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions in 16 games. The completion percentage (67.1) and passer rating (92.52) are career-highs. Those numbers aren’t awe-inspiring, but they’re even more impressive considering the cast Jones has to work with. His starting receivers on Sunday were Richie James, Darius Slayton and Isaiah Hodgins -- would any of the three start for another team?

Jones has also further established himself as one of the better running quarterbacks in the league. He’s rushed 120 times for 708 yards and seven touchdowns this season -- all career-highs.

“I’ve been saying it all year,” said Barkley. “He’s a heck of a player, a heck of a quarterback. “I know everyone wanted to be a big critic of him and say this and say that, but he gave us the opportunity to play playoff football and he locked it in today. When we needed him most, he came up and made big plays.”

There was a belief during training camp that Jones’ days as the Giants starter were numbered. A justified assessment considering management declined his fifth-year option, brought in a proven veteran backup in Tyrod Taylor, and Jones’ own struggles during training camp.

But armed with competent coaching for the first time in his career, Jones continues to turn heads and convert those who wrote him off after his first three seasons. There is a contingent around the league who hope the Giants let him go this offseason -- they want their chance at a player they believe is better than many think.

They won’t be getting that opportunity. Jones’ performance this season, especially against the Colts on Sunday, has made one thing abundantly clear: He’s not going anywhere.

“He played well,” Daboll said. “Very efficient in the passing game. Used his legs well. He’s done that all year, though. I’ve seen that all year from him.”

How the Giants bring Jones back is a problem for another day. They could give him a short-term extension or slap him with the franchise tag. Maybe Joe Schoen has seen enough to commit to him long term.

Either way, Jones’ tenure in New York extending beyond 2022 should excise anyone who views this team as their own.

For the first time in Jones’ career, he heard his name chanted from the fans at MetLife.

It won’t be the last time.