It was way back when, which is to say last month, that Baker Mayfield was the hottest young quarterback in the NFL not named Patrick Mahomes. He was on magazine covers and shotgunning beers and posing with tigers in photoshoots. Good times.
It was way back when, which is to say before the Cleveland Browns started the season 1-2 and Mayfield threw five interceptions, that an article in GQ came out with quotes from Mayfield disparaging Daniel Jones.
It was way back then that Jones was the NFL's punching bag, a predicted dud from Duke who the New York Giants supposedly selected too high (sixth overall in 2019) considering he won games too infrequently at the college level.
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"I cannot believe the Giants took Daniel Jones," Mayfield said, according to GQ, while dining on a steak named after him in downtown Cleveland. "Blows my mind. … Some people overthink it. That's where people go wrong. They forget you've gotta win. … Either you have a history of winning and being that guy for your team or you don't."
Upon publication Mayfield quickly said he didn't say what GQ said he said, noted that he was also stunned that he was picked No. 1 overall in 2017, and both praised and wished Jones well.
Who knows, really. It seems like a long and strange quote to just make up. And while lots of negative things were said about Jones, it's rare when quarterbacks criticize other quarterbacks. The job tends to humble everyone.
At this point, the words hardly matter except to frame what could be a rather fun subplot to this and future NFL seasons, an unlikely rivalry between two young quarterbacks who are now — whether either of them likes it or not — linked.
As Mayfield has struggled this season despite being surrounded by an array of offensive weapons (including former Giants star Odell Beckham Jr.), Jones made his first start Sunday and looked brilliant.
Jones went 23-of-36 for 336 yards and two touchdowns through the air. He added another two touchdowns rushing. Most importantly, he rallied the Giants from an 18-point halftime deficit to beat Tampa, 32-31. Mayfield meanwhile is completing just 56.9 percent of his passes and has five picks to three TDs.
"There's certain things that I knew about this kid when we drafted him," Giants coach Pat Shurmur said, no doubt a preemptive and direct shot at all the critics — who number far more than Mayfield. "He was tough, he was competitive and in my opinion he's a winner."
Mayfield fits that description as well, but he's in a different place in Year 2 as he was in Year 1. Taking over the job as a rookie, there were limited expectations. The late-season run (Cleveland went 5-2) that made him a sensation and the Browns a hyped playoff contender came against mostly middling teams (sort of like Jones beating Tampa) in locally televised games.
Now Mayfield is in prime time, often against top opponents — his latest uneven performance came against the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams on “Sunday Night Football.”
Yet already a debate is raging: Who is better? Mayfield, the darling rookie of last year? Or Jones, the (so far) darling rookie of this year who Mayfield criticized?
The proper answer is, who knows? These are terribly small sample sizes to be making such a judgment.
This is also all fans have to go on, and the NFL is built on overreactions. Right or wrong, here we are. The GQ interview just adds salt to the mix.
It's unlikely this winds up with Mayfield being definitively good and Jones being definitively bad. Or vice versa. They will probably both be pretty good. Yet the comparisons will keep coming.
Every time Jones delivers a fine performance, the narrative will be about hauling the underdog who shut up the haters. And while there is endless footage of TV personalities criticizing the Giants for the selection, there is only one fellow starting quarterback who had similar words printed in a national magazine.
At the time, Jones deftly brushed it all off, exhibiting the calm, Eli-esque demeanor the Giants love.
"I think there's a lot of things that motivate me before something like that would," Jones said. "I think I'm a very passionate person. I don't always show it."
Sunday was just one game, but Jones’ ability to place passes where receivers can catch it stood out. Tampa may not be much of a defense or a team this year, but that kind of accuracy generally speaks to future success.
Jones also delivered his biggest plays surrounded by a weakened roster that became even worse when Saquon Barkley went down with an injury. Jones now has to survive without Barkley for four to eight weeks.
Mayfield has no lack of weapons — although the play calling of rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens could be an albatross that drags him down. He's still an excitable leader and no one will ever question his heart, but the start of this season hasn't been like the end of last season.
So here we are.
Last month, Mayfield was everything and Jones was nothing. Now, in a league that lives off pendulum swings of public opinion, the script has flipped. Mayfield and Jones, back and forth.
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