EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There is no denying the New York Giants looked like a different offense in a 32-31 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday. They had a different quarterback who can do things the previous signal-caller physically can’t at this point of his career.
“The biggest thing is the mobility of Daniel,” Arians said during a conference call with Giants reporters during the week.
It turned out to be the difference in the game, and not just on plays when Jones tucked the ball and ran. It also was invaluable during several of the contest’s biggest moments. It’s likely why Giants coach Pat Shurmur made clear last week he thought Jones was the better quarterback for his team.
The game-changing plays below likely would not have happened with Manning. Jones’ ability — not just to run, but also to navigate the pocket — was a difference-maker that allowed the Giants to score more points in one afternoon than they had in the first two weeks combined.
“It’s value added to the quarterback,” Shurmur said afterward. “You see, in a game, there are a lot of plays that are less than perfect.
“In a former life, guys like Michael Vick and all the mobile quarterbacks that have been around, as you move around and get outside the pocket, things sometimes start to clear up with big plays … because pass rushes are too good. And if they know you’re throwing the ball and you break contain and have a good set of legs on you, then you have a chance to make a play.”
Here are some of the plays that Jones made:
Play 1 (second quarter): Third-and-5 from the Giants’ 30
The Giants trail 12-3 at this point. They need something positive from their second drive as their defense doesn’t look like it can make a stop. This play is dead if Manning is the quarterback. The Bucs blitz up the middle and nobody is initially open in the first two seconds from the snap. Jones sees the blitz and immediately rolls right. He believes he can outrace outside linebacker Shaq Barrett to the edge. He does (barely), but by hitting 19.51 miles per hour according to NFL Next Gen Stats. That is faster than anything players such as Jabrill Peppers, DeAndre Baker and Darius Slayton ran at any point during the game. It’s fast. The play goes for 11 yards and moves the chains. It’s huge. A drive-saver.
Play 2 (second quarter): Third-and-4 from Bucs’ 26
It’s the same drive as the previous play. Again, it’s third down, and the Giants had struggled badly to convert them as Manning was a putrid 7-of-18 passing — 38.9 percent — on third downs in the first two games. Only Miami’s Ryan Fitzpatrick was worse.
Barrett actually jumps offside and is on top of Jones immediately. But Jones is able to escape and roll left. From there, he makes an against-his-body throw to a wide-open Saquon Barkley for a 19-yard gain. Instead of a 5-yard penalty, it’s a big play that gets the Giants inside the 10-yard line. They would score moments later.
Play 3 (second quarter): Second-and-7 from Bucs’ 7
The touchdown comes courtesy of what Shurmur said was the only play where he potentially called Jones’ number. The rest of the quarterback’s runs were scrambles on designed pass plays. This run came moments after Jones surprised the huddle by demanding, “Let’s f—ing score!” You can see on this play the Bucs, who admitted their No. 1 priority was limiting Barkley, all had their eyes on the star running back. Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead made a beeline to the middle, leaving the edge open for Jones to reach the pylon.
This play is barely an option with Manning. No way he beats defensive back MJ Stewart to the end zone. Jones hit 19.47 mph on this play, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Manning’s top speed all of last season was 18.31 mph.
Play 4 (third quarter): First-and-10 from midfield
This was up there with perhaps Jones’ most impressive plays, and that is saying a lot. The Giants are trailing 28-18 and Jones faces quick pressure off the edge when Carl Nassib runs untouched past tight end Rhett Ellison before fullback Elijhaa Penny comes across the formation to get a piece of him at the last second.
These are the kind of situations when the Giants have been doomed in recent years. As one coach told ESPN in the past, the second a play is off-schedule with Manning, “it’s over.” That’s not the case with the more-mobile Jones, who doesn’t panic. He shuffles to his left and keeps his eyes focused downfield. It even appears Jones manages to get through his progressions, off his first target, and throws against his body downfield to Slayton. This is a non-rookie-like play. Not many quarterbacks are throwing 42.5-yard strikes in the air against their bodies. It turned into a 46-yard gain that set up another touchdown and changed the game. This best displays the benefit of the rookie quarterback to this offense.
Play 5 (fourth quarter): Fourth-and-5 from Bucs 7 with 1:21 left
The Giants have to get a first down or this game is over because they are out of timeouts and trailing 31-25. The Bucs get some push off both edges on this predictable pass play. Jones steps up in the pocket and could try a throw to Slayton coming across the end zone from right to left. He has a step. Maybe that’s what Manning does in this same situation. Or maybe he too tries to tuck it and run.
But for Jones, this is an easy decision. The Red Sea parted and he didn’t even have to get into high gear (hitting only 17.26 mph) for the winning score. It was his fourth touchdown of the game, and second as a result of his mobility.
“Young quarterback. It’s his time,” wide receiver Russell Shepard said. “He had an element to his game that people were excited about — extending plays, making plays with his feet. And also, too, slinging the ball downfield and playing confident. Everything that we believed and thought about DJ, he came out here and showed it.”