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Eli Manning had a knack for torturing Giants fans during the first four years of what would become a legendary career. He’d flash his brilliance, bring them to their feet with a good play, fill their hearts with all his promise.
Then he’d turn around and throw the ball away.
That’s easy to forget in the glow of his two Super Bowl rings, and maybe some day his spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but for years Manning was known for ruining all the good he did with painful, horrible, inexcusable interceptions. He threw 64 of them in his first 55 starts, including 20 in 2007, what would later be remembered as his first Super Bowl season.
And it felt like every single one of those turnovers hurt.
That may seem familiar to a new generation of fans, now enduring the same thing with Manning’s successor, Daniel Jones, and still stinging from his big fumble last Sunday that left everyone screaming “Here we go again.” He’s only thrown 22 interceptions in his first 27 NFL starts, but he's lost 18 lost fumbles on top of that.
That’s 40 turnovers for Jones in his first 27 NFL starts.
Manning, with 31 interceptions and three lost fumbles, had 34.
Now, none of that is to say Jones will ever be anything close to as good as Manning, who shook off his careless throwing and became the greatest Giants quarterback of all time. The point is that turnover problems can be corrected. Quarterbacks learn to make smarter throws. And players can be taught to hold onto the ball.
Those problems are not genetic. Sometimes, as much as fans don’t want to hear this, all it takes is a little bit of time.
The problem with Jones is that every fumble is different and presents another problem – which really was just how it was with all those Manning picks. Jones has had the ball stripped out of his hands when he dropped back to throw, knocked out on a hard hit, slapped away when he was running for his life. He’s just dropped it, seemingly out of nowhere. He’s fumbled snaps. And then there are plays like the one against the Broncos on Sunday when he lost it as he dove head-first at the end of a run instead of sliding, like smart quarterbacks do.
“I think each situation is separate from the other,” Jones said. “I’ve got to learn from each one of them and correct them. That’s the way I’m looking at it and I’ve certainly studied this one from Sunday and trying to work on it.”
No one has doubted at all that Jones is putting in the work. And no one is doubting that Joe Judge and the coaching staff are drilling ball security into him daily. It’s just that no one will believe it – or even care – until the fumbling stops and everyone can trust that Jones won’t drop the ball.
But there is plenty of NFL evidence that hard work like that can pay off. Fans old enough to remember Manning’s turnover foibles surely remember the exploits of Tiki Barber, who was the best offensive player on the Giants when Tom Coughlin arrived in 2004. Barber was a yardage machine and an absolutely electric player. But starting with the Super Bowl season of 2000, he had a five-year stretch where he fumbled 40 times and lost 19 – including five (and two lost) in Coughlin’s first season.
Coughlin, almost as soon as he arrived, told Barber he’d bench him if he didn’t learn to hold onto the ball. He made Barber carry a ball everywhere – always “high and tight” – and he made his coaches repeat that mantra every time they were in Barber’s presence.
The end result: In 2005, Coughlin’s second season, Barber rushed 357 times for 1,860 yards, and he fumbled only once.
Manning got better too, obviously. He responded to his 20-interception season in 2007 by throwing only 10 in 2008. So yes, the same could happen to Jones. Turnover issues are fixable. And he certainly knows he has to fix them if he wants to have any success.
“It’s certainly frustrating,” Jones said of his turnover issue. “Those are big plays and certainly changed the game, so I’ve got to do better.”
Yes he does. And odds are he will. It’s not his only problem, and it’s certainly not the only problem with the Giants’ offense, but it’s hardly unusual.
And it’s definitely a problem that he can correct.