Giants quarterback Daniel Jones is about to play the most critical six games of his NFL career, and after weeks of people wondering if he'd ever be up to the task, Jones has been quietly making the steps forward the Giants have been waiting to see.
For one, Jones is coming off two straight games without a turnover. It's the first turnover-free two-game stretch in his career and a steep turnaround from his first eight games of the season in which he committed nine interceptions and four fumbles.
Additionally, he has averaged 228 passing yards at a 71.3 completion percentage over his last two games with one touchdown pass and one rushing.
His recent play is an apparent uptick from his 208 passing yards and 61.7 completion percentage performance over the first eight weeks.
Jones hasn't done it alone, though. The rushing attack has picked things up, too, picking up 317 yards in their past two games. Jones has contributed to this total with 68 rushing yards of his own, but even he admits that the offense has collectively started to get into their playbook's rhythm.
"Just playing together more in this system and getting used to it, and getting more experience as a team, more experience playing with one another, that's certainly been helpful," Jones said. "There are a number of things we did better."
"We consistently moved the ball. Obviously, protecting the ball was a big part of that as well. That gives us a much better opportunity to win when we do that. Then scoring touchdowns in the red zone. We've been more effective in that area as we've gone on this year," he said.
Still, as the team's starting quarterback, Jones's own personal growth has played very heavily into the team's recent turnaround on offense.
While Jones hasn't exactly lit up the stat sheet, his improved passing efficiency is undeniable, and it marks a significant step forward in what might have been the coaching staff's most significant objective of the 2020 season.
The other significant part of Jones' development is in how his leadership has steadily manifested into a core presence in the Giants' locker room.
This season is technically Jones's first in that central leadership role. In his rookie season, Jones had veteran Eli Manning around. Even when Jones was promoted ahead of Manning to the starting role, Manning's presence never really allowed Jones to feel comfortable as a leader, given the respect everyone had for Manning.
But once Manning retired, Jones was only too happy to take up Manning's mantle, including with that becoming a team captain.
Jones has grown into a more mature quarterback after ten games, which has head coach Joe Judge pleased.
"I think Daniel has done a good job of really growing in this system," Judge said. "The way this guy is outward with his teammates. The reception he gets in team meetings, our locker room, things like that--you can really see the team growing around him.
"This guy is an integral part. He's a leader on this team. He's the quarterback, and we all have confidence in him. We love putting him on the field on Sunday and letting him go out there and compete."
The only question now is whether Jones can keep building on the momentum from the last few weeks in this critical six-game stretch that begins this weekend with a Week 12 road contest against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The game could prove to be a huge opportunity for Jones, who is leading his offense into the game fresh off their bye week with plenty of momentum and motivation to win the division.
Jones will face a defense that ranks 26th in the NFL and is 24th in the NFL in forcing turnovers (10). The Bengals, who lost starting quarterback Joe Burrow to a horrific knee injury, are entering Week 12 with a two-game losing streak in which they gave up 702 total yards and 56 combined points.
"I’m really impressed by him," Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, once a quarterbacks coach with the Rams, said of Jones. "I know he’s in a new system compared to last year, but you can see his ownership of that.
"Just him playing as an NFL quarterback you can see the confidence he’s got in himself and the team’s confidence in him. He’s starting to make plays. He’s made some big-time throws this year, he’s had some big-time runs and he looks very poised back there and he puts them in good position."
Jones, like his coaches and teammates, isn't oblivious to what's at stake in the division where it's quite simple.
The Giants need to win as many of the remaining games as possible and hope that the first-place Eagles stub their toe along the way while Washington and Dallas slug it out with the Eagles for second, third, and fourth place in the division.
But like his teammates and coaches, Jones knows that there's a more important goal they have to reach first.
"We’re certainly aware of where the division is, what’s left and what’s out there for us," he said.
"But I think we do need to focus on what we’re doing this week. (The division race) only remains exciting, only remains an opportunity if we take care of business week in and week out. Our focus is on what we’re doing and preparing for Cincinnati this week."
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