EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- One by one, Daniel Jones is winning them over, just about every last one of them. The draft day critics who mocked his selection at sixth overall in the 2019 NFL draft -- then doubled and tripled down over his first three professional seasons -- have pretty much all been converted, just before his rookie contract expires after the season.
It certainly hasn’t been a smooth road to the divisional round of the playoffs. Jones has hit potholes, craters, even had the wheels fall off on multiple occasions in years’ past.
But he’s done everything this season -- and especially in his first postseason appearance -- to dispel the narratives, most notably that he’s a turnover machine. In fact, nobody, has started the entire season and committed fewer turnovers than Jones has entering Saturday night’s divisional-round matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles. His eight turnovers in 19 games is a league best.
Jones finished seventh in QBR this season and led the Giants (9-7-1) to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. His playoff debut was the football equivalent of almost throwing a perfect game.
Jones can add an NFC Championship Game appearance to his resume when the Giants face the top-seeded Eagles on Saturday (8:15 p.m. ET, FOX).
“Definitely his respect around the league is going up,” wide receiver Darius Slayton said recently. “At the end of the day, you can say what you want to say, you’re in a dog fight with us every week. And a lot of people this year have lost to us. To him.
“At some point, you can think what you want to think, but if I keep beating you and I’m right on your butt, you gotta respect that.”
It was on full display this past Sunday afternoon for the entire football world to see. Jones became the first player in NFL history to have 300 yards passing, two passing touchdowns and at least 70 yards rushing in a playoff game. He went 24-of-35 passing for 301 yards with two touchdowns and had 78 yards rushing on 17 carries. It was the latest eye-opening effort that earned him a QBR of 81.2.
Really, it was just an extension of what Jones has done in the second half of the season, when the offense started to revolve more around him than running back Saquon Barkley. Jones has been their best player for the past nine games.
“I would say I'm impressed. I'm not shocked. He been doing it all year,” Barkley said of Jones' playoff performance. “He's really a special player. You know, what a way to start it off. I'm happy for him and proud of him and we're going to need him and keep leaning on him.”
Jones hasn’t been naïve to the criticism that followed him from Duke to New York in his first three years in the NFL. Most notably, he wasn’t able to stay healthy.
Slowly throughout this season, the tide has seemingly turned. It’s hard to ignore the success he’s had under new coach Brian Daboll. And he hasn’t missed a game.
“Yeah, you hear some of it for sure and notice some of it,” Jones said. “It’s part of it. I can’t control how people respond positively or negatively, just control how I play and that’s my focus.”
His teammates have been insistent the past couple years that this was coming. Barkley and wide receiver Sterling Shepard were among the most vocal supporters. They were certain given Jones’ physical talent and work ethic that the results would eventually follow.
It took until Year 4, coach No. 3 and offensive coordinator No. 4 for it to happen, but Jones has finally won the respect of the football world.
“I feel like it’s been all season. Just continuing to play great games and drive us down the field in critical parts of the game too,” wide receiver David Sills V said. “I think everyone that was saying something is not really saying anything anymore.”
Of course, there will always be doubters.
One executive with an NFC team still believes Jones’ success is mostly attributed to Daboll’s scheme and offense. It’s not that he believes Jones isn’t a quality quarterback, just that he still isn’t someone he’d pay substantial money to and build around.
The Giants had their concerns entering this season, when they declined his fifth-year option.
But Jones has seemingly won them over, too.
“Each game we ask him to do quite a bit,” Daboll said. “One week is different than the next. What we did in Week 2 might’ve been different than Week 15, but we’ve had confidence in Daniel. I’ve had confidence in Daniel since training camp.”
Ownership had hope, if not confidence. It was John Mara that famously said when Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen were hired that the Giants had done “everything possible to screw this kid up.”
Mara called Jones’ playoff-clinching win over the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 1 “very gratifying.” All this praise isn’t completely lost on the Giants’ quarterback.
“I certainly appreciate the support, but like I said we’re focused on what we’ve got to do this week, what’s ahead of us now and that’s all that matters,” Jones said. “For any of us, it’s what you do next week and with the next opportunity so that’s what I’m focused on.”