Opinion: If Daniel Jones and the Giants keep playing like this, questions about QB's future will persist

Art Stapleton
NFL writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Daniel Jones is the present, and the Giants want to believe he is their future at quarterback. They're going to give him every chance to prove that.

But when Jones struggles through the kind of performance he had in Sunday's 36-9 loss to the 49ers, there is going to be speculation about what comes next. 

The names of Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields are going to be tossed around on social media and sports talk radio, and you may even see a few images of those two quarterbacks for Clemson and Ohio State, respectively, photo-shopped into Giants uniforms.

The only way Jones can prevent that from happening is to start winning games and stop doing things that deserve to be criticized. Because, ultimately, he's the only one who can silence the doubt that is starting to creep into the minds of observers with each passing defeat. 

"I didn't do a lot of the things I wanted to do [Sunday]," Jones said.

Jones was certainly not alone. The Giants (0-3) were outclassed by a 49ers team missing eight starters, including their best player in Nick Bosa, and the defending NFC champions spent the week at a country club in West Virginia trying to make sense of the rash of devastating injuries that supposedly wrecked their roster.

San Francisco 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt (29) grabs onto the face mask of New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) in the second half. The New York Giants lose to the San Francisco 49ers, 36-9, in an NFL game at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in East Rutherford.

With Saquon Barkley out for the season, the Giants need Jones to bring his best every time out. Through anticipated growing pains, the No. 6 overall pick from the 2019 NFL Draft has to continue to show improvement in his own game; even more than that, though, his mere presence and performance must continue to give the Giants belief that he can be the player they build around to turn this franchise into a winner again from the punchline it has become.

This was an opportunity for Jones, and he failed to take advantage.

He seemed out of sync throughout, and the lone game that really compares to this one in his previous 14 career starts was his first loss to the Vikings (28-10 on Oct. 6, 2019). And how bad was Jones that day? Never mind his 21-of-38 effort with a touchdown and an interception - he was so off, Jones called up former teammate Bennie Fowler and that night (just a few hours after leaving the field) they found a North Jersey park and under the lights went over all the plays he missed together.

"I think it was definitely disappointing, I don't think any of us came in expecting this. But, you know, I think as a team, now, we understand we can't let that affect our confidence going forward. I'm confident in the guys we have in the locker room, the mindset that we have. Take it and learn from it, but not let this situation define us and understand what we need to do to move forward and improve as a team."

Jones took the blame for his second fumble of the season, a "poor pitch" on an end around to Evan Engram in the first quarter, although blame for the play likely should be shared by both players. They were both involved in Jones' other turnover, a brutal interception late in the second quarter on which he misfired behind Engram. The 49ers turned Jones' fourth interception of the season into one of three Robbie Gould field goals for a commanding 16-6 halftime lead.

Overall, the Giants had a lot more problems than just their quarterback. He is their leading rusher after three games, and they used a No. 2 overall pick on a running back.

The Giants have used their top draft selection in four straight years on offensive players, three of whom were taken by general manager Dave Gettleman, and yet they are averaging under 13 points per game. Gettleman is going to take considerable heat, and rightfully so, especially on days when a roster he has assembled over the last three years looks incredibly inferior to the one that set the standard in the NFC last year.

Even when that roster belonging to the 49ers was without starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, star tight end George Kittle, starting running back Raheem Mostert, star defensive end Nick Bosa, defensive end Dee Ford, linebacker Dre Greenlaw, All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, wide receiver Deebo Samuel and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, among others.

The Giants are 9-26 since Gettleman took over as GM on the heels of the firings of Jerry Reese, his predecessor, and Ben McAdoo. The first coach he hired, Pat Shurmur, was fired at the end of last season. His first draft pick, Barkley, is on injured reserve.

That essentially leaves Jones and his development as the centerpiece of the team, the one Gettleman build, the same one Joe Judge and his staff is trying to turn around and complete the transformation into a consistent winner.

Following Sunday's performance, the Giants went back to resembling the same team that has lost the most games in the NFL since 2017.

And Jones propped open the door by the way he played to speculation from some about whether he can grow into the quarterback that leads the Giants into better days ahead. He's certainly not out of chances to prove he can become that player, although that remains a hurdle in his journey that he still needs to clear. 

"For us as a team, and for everyone in the building, I think it's important that we correct the things that went wrong, we understand the things that went wrong and improve from this game, not to let it define us as a team," Jones said. "We know that we're capable of playing a lot better than we did [Sunday], and I think there were a lot of things that happened that were uncharacteristic of who we are and what we can be, and as a team, we need to understand that. We need to move forward, and go back to work determined to play better, determined to fix the things that have gotten in our way these first few weeks. We're not gonna let it affect our confidence. We're certainly not gonna let it affect how we work and how hard we attack this week, how hard we attack the preparation towards the Rams. I think we have the right guys in the locker room to do it, and that mindset, that approach will be key."

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