Daniel Jones was already up against it, already in over his head against Tom Brady and the Bucs, when he made the kind of fatal mistake you cannot make against anyone, much less The GOAT.
Jones was trailing 24-10 late in the third quarter when it happened, when you could have opened your terrace door and probably heard most Giants fan scream to the high heavens:
Daniel Jones threw the ball to Steve McLendon.
Steve McLendon plays defensive tackle for the Bucs.
Jones looked to his left and panicked under pressure and McLendon was the only player in the vicinity wide open.
“Bad decision there,” Eli Manning said on ESPN2.
That would be an understatement.
“He went color blind for a little bit and threw it up the wrong jersey I guess,” Manning said.
Correct. McLendon was wearing a red jersey.
Soon it was 27-10 and say good night.
Jones was picked off again early in the fourth quarter when he rolled right and telegraphed a throw that Devin White tipped to Mike Edwards, and it was Bucs 30, Giants 10 when it ended.
This was his year to make the big leap, with ownership and management feeding him Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney and the expected comeback of Saquon Barkley, who looked nothing like vintage Barkley.
Golladay, the $72 Million Man, was targeted only twice.
Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was targeted once.
By Joe Judge.
“We gotta do a better job putting our players in position to make plays — we have too many good players,” Judge said. “We gotta make sure we sit down tomorrow as a coaching staff and understand how we gotta play this game and give our players a chance to make plays … as a player, there’s some things I’d be frustrated with too, as well.”
Judge believes in Jones, and is hanging his hat on his development.
If you read between the lines, you can’t help but reach the conclusion that he believes in Daniel Jones more than he believes in Jason Garrett.
And of course has little choice to believe otherwise, even on a night when his franchise quarterback fell to 0-8 in prime time.
You can’t help but reach the conclusion that Judge has reached the point where he is concerned that Garrett is holding back his franchise quarterback.
Jones, for his part, continues to publicly support his OC. It is the Manning Way.
“I know as players, certainly myself, feel responsible for how we played and executed, and that’s on me, that’s on us to do better,” Jones said. “We’re put into position to make plays, and we’ve gotta make ’em, and that certainly starts with me. I felt like we were prepared and we had a good game plan going in.”
Asked if the offense still has faith in Garrett, Jones said: “Yeah, I certainly do.”
Asked why, he said: “Like I said, I think we were prepared, I think we had a plan, and we didn’t execute. I think we feel responsible as players.”
Jones was 4 years old when Brady won his first Super Bowl. He was 24 when Brady won his seventh in February.
And he has not had the kind of support that Eli Manning had behind him in the glory years. And, as we have learned over the years, absolutely not the kind of offensive line that Manning had in front of him, either.
This was his long-shot chance to send a jolt of electricity and hope through Giants fans still skeptical about him and infuse belief into a franchise that for a disheartening, demoralizing decade has lost its way and failed to honor its proud tradition.
On this night, the Giants desperately needed Jones to raise his game and be more than The Other Man In The Arena against the great Brady.
So you figured that Jones might need some help, or some luck, or some of both.
He had gotten some of it in a big way when a Brady bullet deflected off a surprised Mike Evans, and Adoree’ Jackson’s interception positioned Jones first-and-goal at the 5.
With Barkley and Golladay and Toney together for a change, Eli Manning had said on ESPN 2: “They could open it up a little more this week.”
So of course Jones, backpedaling and under siege, lofted a rainbow that LT Andrew Thomas hauled in for the 2-yard TD that made it Giants 10, Bucs 10.
And the Giants (3-7) never sniffed the end zone again.
It was Bucs 17, Giants 10 in the third quarter when Judge asked Jones to get one yard on fourth down from the Brady 25. Jones had just hit Kyle Rudolph on a wheel route for 28 yards. The right call by Judge. The wrong play-call by Garrett. Because White was in on a Jones in a flash and the Bucs knew exactly what was coming and the pass fell incomplete.
“We gotta do a better job scoring points,” Judge said.
That’s been the lament for the past 26 games.
Without any semblance of a running game, with Barkley lacking his explosiveness, Jones and his offense sometimes appear as if they are laboring to climb a hill. That’s when they aren’t committing undisciplined penalties and challenging the Jets in the self-inflicted wound department.
Judge was not in the mood to assess Jones or any of his players. The quarterback is safe. The offensive coordinator is not.