I was supposed to be at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. I was going to go Tampa to watch the Giants play the Buccaneers and then see the Yankees play the Rays at Tropicana Field during the week. When the Yankees decided they would play spring training lineups until the playoffs started and the Giants proved to be as bad as ever in the first two weeks of the season, I canceled my trip. It didn’t make sense to go all the way to Florida to watch my teams play meaningless games.
Then last Wednesday happened and Pat Shurmur announced Daniel Jones as his starting quarterback, effectively ending Eli Manning’s career, and I began to think about if I should uncancel the trip to see the official start of a new era of Giants football. But that thought was quickly wiped away by the visions of the Buccaneers going up and down the field at will against the Giants defense, the way every other offense has against the Giants since the start of the 2017 season. I ultimately decided I didn’t want to be in the building for the first game in the post-Manning era, and I would rather see if the quarterback attached at the hip to the job of the Giants general manager and head coach was capable of playing in the NFL from my couch.
I didn’t know how to feel for Sunday’s game. As a Giants fan, I want Jones to succeed so that the Giants can play meaningful football past Week 3 in future seasons, but I don’t want Shurmur or Dave Gettleman to be part of the organization for future seasons, and if Jones succeeds then they stay. As a Manning fan, I don’t want the Giants winning a game or games changing the narrative to the reasons behind this multi-season mess and the blame then being pinned on the best quarterback in franchise history because of it. It’s quite the predicament and it created a weird way of watching Sunday’s game. Tiki Barber’s glowing praise for Jones and subtle shots at Manning combined with his glee for getting to broadcast a game in which Manning was the backup didn’t help matters.
I was impressed by Jones in his first real NFL action. He exceeded expectations from a stat perspective, throwing for 336 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for two touchdowns as well, and also from a poise and demeanor standpoint, never looking out of place as a rookie making his first career start. It wasn’t all good as he lost two fumbles, but it was mostly good and certainly more good than bad. It was the first time in more than two seasons, Giants fans could feel good about their team and the future of their team, and it was the first time ever Giants fans could feel good about something Gettleman and Shurmur have ever done for the Giants. Though Shurmur would try to erase any goodwill he had for the day late in the game with weekly nonsensical challenge. (At least his failed challenge attempt was on a play that could actually be challenged. Progress!)
Jones’s memorable debut and the Giants’ first win of the season was made possible by Buccaneers kicker Matt Gay’s horrific game in which he missed two extra points and a would-be, game-winning 34-yarder. Without Gay’s awful day, the Giants would be 0-3 and it would have been another loss made possible by the Giants’ embarrassing defense, which was picked apart in the final minute of the game to set up Gay’s eventual miss. But instead of another crushing fourth-quarter loss, the Giants were finally on the right side of a time-expiring field-goal attempt.
The story today is Jones and should be after his impressive debut and his go-ahead, seven-yard touchdown run on fourth down with one minute and 16 seconds left in the game. But the story should also be the Giants’ defense, which allowed 499(!) yards and did everything it could to give away another game. It’s hard to look at the win in a positive light without recognizing it was completely gifted to them by Gay, and it’s hard to feel entirely good about it when the defense looked the worst it has all season, and continues to get worse rather than better as the season progresses. Overall, a win is a win, and when you record as few of them as the Giants have over the last two-plus seasons, you take them in any way you can get them, even if it’s because the opposing kicker missed two extra points and a 34-yarder to win the game.
The Giants won a game on a fourth down play Manning isn’t capable of making: a seven-yard run. They won a game they haven’t been fortunate enough to win in a while: on a missed field-goal attempt. They won a game, which is something they haven’t done much of for a long time. I want this to be the beginning of the Giants’ return to being competitive, but for that to happen, the defense is going to have to greatly improve, no matter how well Jones plays.