TAMPA -- It was a dazzling debut for Daniel Jones.
Just in case anyone still doubted the Giants knew what they were doing when they made the 22-year-old quarterback the sixth overall pick in the draft, he put on a clinic in his first NFL start on Sunday afternoon. He not only completed 23 of 36 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns, but he engineered an Eli Manning-like, game-winning drive in the final 3 ½ minutes.
It ended on a 4th and 5 from the Bucs 7 when he dropped back, watched as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense parted like a red sea around him, and he took off up the middle, untouched, for a touchdown that gave the Giants a 32-31 lead with 1:16 remaining.
Yes, the almost blew it and needed a missed, 34-yard field goal to preserve the win. But don't let that little detail detract from the magic of Daniel Jones, who was 5 of 7 for 63 yards on that final drive, which started with the Giants 75 yards away with 3:16 remaining. He didn't flinch, even as the Bucs batted away a third-down pass setting up his first do-or-die NFL moment.
All in all, it was an absolutely legendary start.
Everything Jones does best was on display. The Giants used his mobility for more designed roll outs and runs than they probably have in the last 15 years under Eli Manning. And Jones' ability to extend the play helped out his undermanned receiving corps (getting Sterling Shepard back in the lineup helped too). And he was pinpoint in his accuracy and calm under pressure -- two things he showed all summer, though obviously never in a situation like this.
And the best part about it was what he did in the second half, after losing Saquon Barkley to an ankle injury. Jones' first pass of the second half was a 75-yard touchdown pass to tight end Evan Engram. And on the second drive, he threw a beautiful, perfectly placed pass to Sterling Shepard for a seven-yard touchdown to pull the Giants within 28-25.
He didn't flinch, and that's amazing. He's 22, making his first NFL start, and he opens the second half in a 28-10 hole with his best player standing on the sidelines in a walking boot and leaning on crutches (more on that in a minute) and he goes on a roll like he's done it a million times before?
It was very, very Eli Manning-like. And that's what the Giants were counting on.
Jones started fast, too. With the Bucs loading up to stop Barkley, Jones took his time and kept finding openings. He converted a huge third-down pass in the first quarter on a 3rd and 9 when he showed great patience waiting for Sterling Shepard to get open. He bailed the Giants out on another third down on his first touchdown drive when he eluded a sack (barely), got out of the pocket, and found Barkley 19 yards down field.
And he showed off his wheels, too, which coach Pat Shurmur clearly wanted to use. His first NFL touchdown was a naked bootleg that resulted in a seven-yard touchdown run. That's something that probably hasn't been part of a Giants playbook in 15 years.
The best part? No real costly rookie mistakes. He did have a couple of fumbles, but those can be hard to prevent under pressure. The closest he came to a real devastating miscue was a second quarter pass on which he didn't see safety Mike Edwards in the middle of the field. Jones caught a break, though, when Edwards dropped what should've been an easy interception.
But that was it. The rest of the game. Very good. Very efficient. Very mistake-free. It was absolutely more than anyone could have hoped for from a rookie quarterback making his debut in Week 3.
Meanwhile, here are some more takeaways from the Giants' first win of the season.
The big news of this game, of course, will be Saquon Barkley's ankle injury. It happened late in the first half on a swing pass which he took for six yards. He seemed to get his ankle caught under the defender. He stayed down on the ground, then got up limping at first, then hopping, before going down again. He was eventually helped to the locker room. When he came out for the second half, he was on crutches and wearing a boot on his right foot. Not good.
Before Barkley got hurt, the Bucs - and their defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles - clearly made a decision early in this game that they weren't going to let Saquon Barkley beat them. They loaded up the line of scrimmage and kept their focus on Barkley at all times. It worked, too. The result: Barkley had just 10 yards on eight carries. Not all of it was about the defense, though. He also dropped a wide-open, sure-fire touchdown pass in the second quarter. Very un-Saquon-like.
What an absolutely horrid day for CB Janoris Jenkins. He needed to come up big after the way he called out the Giants' pass rush last week (And yes, he called them out … spare me the "context" excuse). But he didn't. At all. He was basically shadowing Bucs receiver Mike Evans, who had 8 catches for 190 yards and three touchdowns. And it's not like he was forced to cover for 10 seconds, either. He was just flat-out beat. Oh, except on the second touchdown when appeared to give up a bit on the play. Considering how bad rookie corner DeAndre Baker has been, the fact that the Bucs still decided to go after Jenkins says a lot.
Overall, the Giants defense still stinks. And that's about the nicest way to put it. They blitzed the Bucs a lot, but just couldn't get to Jameis Winston, and when they did they were totally vulnerable in coverage. The Giants aren't exactly loaded with defensive talent, but James Bettcher has been a very unimpressive defensive coordinator so far. Because this isn't just bad. It's a disaster. In three first halves this season, the Giants have surrendered nine touchdowns and three field goals in 15 drives. It doesn't get much worse. And yes, I know, they were much improved in the second halves this week and last week. Fine. Doesn't make up for the hideous first halves, though. Or the fact that they almost blew this game in the end.
Evan Engram is clearly going to be Jones' go-to guy, and it isn't at all surprising that a young quarterback would lean on a tight end. That's where he's most likely to find mismatches. Engram, not surprisingly, had a terrific game (six catches, 113 yards, 1 touchdown). He also had a spectacular, Odell-like, one-handed catch to keep the opening drive alive. And he opened the second half by taking a short pass and turning on the jets to turn it into a 75-yard touchdown. He can be a huge weapon for the rookie QB if he plays like that.
The signing of Markus Golden could still prove to be one of GM Dave Gettleman's better moves. He has been their best and most consistent pass rusher through the first three games. Who knows if he'll get back to his pre-ACL tear form? But he can still play. He did have a sack on Sunday - his second of the season. He still needs to do more to be a real factor, though.