EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — These were MetLife Stadium moments that many thought would never come.
First, an “MVP” chant broke out for New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones after his second rushing touchdown on Sunday put the playoff-bound Giants ahead, 38-10.
With barely more than seven minutes remaining and fans chanting “Daniel Jones,” head coach Brian Daboll sent backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor onto the field to replace the quarterback. Jones, found wanting by many Giants fans over most of his four seasons, left the field to a thunderous ovation.
Like Gates, star running back Saquon Barkley was happy for the quarterback.
“He’s a heck of a player, heck of a quarterback. I think it really showed, not just today, but the whole season and I’m just happy for him,” Barkley said. “Hearing his name getting chanted — it’s a beautiful thing and you can finally see he’s starting to get the respect he deserves. I know everyone wanted to be a big critic of him and say this and say that, but he gave us the opportunity to play playoff football and he locked it today. When we needed him the most, he came up and made big plays.”
What did Barkley say to Jones when he greeted him on the sideline as the quarterback came off the field?
“I told him, “I love you.” I think that was a cool moment. Hearing his name be chanted,” Barkley said. “I know it’s been a tough couple years here and since I’ve been drafted or before I got drafted or since he’s been drafted, but it’s just cool to see he’s finally getting the respect that he earns because that guy, he works his tail off I think I said it to one of you guys earlier, he’s the toughest quarterback in the league. He’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win football games. He comes to work every single day with that mentality and I’m just happy for him.”
The Giants’ selection of Jones No. 6 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft has been snickered at by many for years. Even as they won enough games this season to put themselves in position to clinch a playoff berth, many wondered if Jones was doing enough to earn the right to come back in 2023 or if the Giants would be looking for a new quarterback.
There was a report Sunday morning that the Giants were interested in keeping Jones and running back Saquon Barkley in 2023 and beyond.
Sunday afternoon, Jones absolutely made that look like a good idea.
It was a ‘win and in’ day for the Giants, with a victory over the woebegone Colts getting the Giants their first playoff appearance since 2016. Jones wasn’t the only reason the Giants made that happen on Sunday, but he was certainly the biggest.
Jones passed for a modest 177 yards, but this was really a career day for the 25-year-old. He accounted for four touchdowns, two passing and two running, as the Giants blew past the 30-point barrier for the first time in 44 games. He went 19 of 24, missing on just three passes after the Giants’ opening possession. He carried 11 times for 91 yards.
“He was ballin’ today,” Barkley said.
Jones wasn’t only balling. He was throwing his body around with little regard for his personal safety.
With the Giants comfortably ahead, 31-10, Jones scrambled and took a hit from Colts’ linebacker Bobby Okoreke, who was flagged for unnecessary roughness. Two plays later, Jones threw a shoulder at Okoreke at the goal line as he produced his fourth and final touchdown of the day, the exclamation point on what had to be the most gratifying day of his career.
“I’m really appreciative and grateful for the support of the fans, but it’s a team thing. This was a complete team win today”
– Daniel Jones on the cheers he received from the fans during today’s game pic.twitter.com/62BgnoBeP0
— Giants Videos (@SNYGiants) January 1, 2023
Jones enjoyed the reaction from the crowd.
“I’m really appreciative, grateful,” he said. “Our fans have been tremendous all year. They supported us today, they came out and brought a lot of energy. The whole game, we felt it and fed off it the whole game. Grateful, really appreciative of their support for me personally and for our team.”
Jones, who has heard plenty of jeers from the faithful at MetLife, said the reaction on Sunday “beats the alternative, for sure.”
Daboll arranged the curtain call for the quarterback “Because I thought he earned it.”
Co-owner John Mara, who has been one of Jones’ biggest supporters throughout the past few seasons, told the New York Post that it was “gratifying” to see Jones lead the Giants back to the playoffs.
“It’s great. To draft him as high as we drafted him, we got a lot of criticism. He took a lot of criticism,” Mara said. “To see him come into his own is very gratifying.”
Jones was feeling good enough that when Daboll asked him to break down the post-game huddle, the quarterback gave the team Monday and Tuesday off — without consulting the coach.
Daboll’s reaction? The coach said all he could do at that point was say “we’ll go with what Daniel said.”
Barkley was not the only Giants player who praised the quarterback.
“DJ did a great job today, whether it was running, whether it was throwing, being a leader,” said Giants’ left tackle Andrew Thomas. “I felt like he had the tools to do this all along. I feel like he’s a great player, and people are starting to realize it. He’s dealt with some tough times, so I’m happy for him.”
Thomas, though, does wish his quarterback wasn’t so willing to take hits.
“I told him to get down,” Thomas said.
Offensive lineman Nick Gates said the reaction when Jones was lifted from the game was “awesome.”
“I’m proud of him. I’m so, so happy for him. He works his butt off, day in and day out, first one in and last one out,” Gates said. “I’m really happy. It’s finally paying off for him. He’s a hard worker. I’ll go to battle for that man any day of the week.”
Wide receiver Darius Slayton said it was “stressful” watching Jones initiate contact at times.
“I’d rather he slide, but I think it shows toughness,” Slayton said. “He’s a real football player. He’s not a quarterback that sits in the pocket and sits above everybody. Stuff like that just shows you who he really is inside and what he’s willing to do.”
Jones may never be Patrick Mahomes. He may never be Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady in their prime. His teammates, though, certainly appreciate what he has helped them accomplish. I would certainly hope that even those who have not been Jones’ biggest boosters would recognize that, as well.
I think he certainly earned the recognition he got on Sunday.
‘Playoff fans’ showed up
Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale wanted “playoff fans” to show up on Sunday. I think Giants fans delivered. The stadium was as full, and as approvingly loud, as I can remember. Which was entirely appropriate for the Giants’ biggest game in New Jersey since their 2012 Wild Card victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
“That’s the best fans I’ve seen in this stadium since I’ve been here. Great atmosphere. It was pretty cool,” Thomas said.
Nick Gates has been a Giant since 2018, spending his rookie season on IR.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard a stadium like that before,” he said. “So it was jumping for all four quarters.”
Barkley said it was “fun” to play in the raucous MetLife atmosphere.
“You could feel the energy just driving here from the fans. We challenged the fans – the coaches, the captains, the team – and they showed up. They showed up, man,” Barkley said. “They were loud, made a lot of noise and created the energy that we needed and we were able to win the game because of them.”
I think this is wild
The Giants won on Sunday. They are locked into the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs no matter what happens the rest of the way. The Philadelphia Eagles lost to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
That means that the 13-3 Eagles have not clinched the NFC East and after losing two straight are now in danger of losing the NFC East to the Dallas Cowboys and falling out of the top seed in the NFC and the home field advantage that comes with it. That means the Eagles need to play their starters against the Giants next Sunday in Philly, while Giants coach Brian Daboll could rest some players if he chooses to.
I won’t criticize Kayvon Thibodeaux
I think – no, I know – it was bad optics for Kayvon Thibodeaux to be doing snow angels while Colts’ quarterback Nick Foles was laying on the ground injured after a Thibodeaux sack. I will not, though, criticize Thibodeaux.
I have watched the play a number of times. Thibodeaux was celebrating his accomplishment. It was obvious to me that he did not know that Foles was injured.