Pat Shurmur could hardly contain his glee, and boy was it striking.
Just minutes after the New York Giants’ thrilling 32-31 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Giants’ head coach was as animated as you’ll ever see him in front of media. He had reason to be, given the way rookie quarterback Daniel Jones had just played.
In his first regular-season start in the place of Giants legend Eli Manning, the rookie quarterback who just about everyone ripped New York for selecting sixth overall in this year’s NFL draft, rallied the Giants from a 28-10 deficit. He did it while throwing some flat-out dimes and using his athleticism to make plays with his feet in the victory. By the time the game was over, Jones had tallied 336 passing yards and two touchdown passes in addition to 28 yards and two touchdowns rushing, becoming only the second player since the 1970 merger to tally two rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns in his NFL debut.
And all it took for Shurmur to come as close as he could to rubbing critics’ noses in it was a question about what made Jones’ winning 7-yard TD run with a minute left special.
“There’s certain things that I knew about this kid when we drafted him,” Shurmur began, his voice growing more animated. “He was tough, he was competitive, and in my opinion, he was a winner.”
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Perhaps the only man happier about Jones’ performance was Shurmur’s boss, general manager Dave Gettleman, who was thoroughly ridiculed for the Jones selection yet remained firmly resolute about Jones’ potential, largely because of the mental toughness Jones displayed as a 3 1/2-year starter for a middling Duke squad.
“At the end of the day, being the quarterback — especially here — is more than just on the field; it’s the whole thing,” Gettleman told Yahoo Sports during an interview this summer. “And we’ve been spoiled here for 15 years, we’ve had the quintessential adult [in Eli].”
The 68-year-old Gettleman, an NFL executive for 20 years, essentially fell in love with Jones after watching the 22-year-old’s catalog of Duke starts, 36 in all.
“He’s been through a million pressers where he hasn’t played well,” Gettleman said. “There was one Duke game where he throws a post [route], puts it right on the kid and the kid drops it. So after the game, the press asked about it and he said, ‘I just needed to put that in a better spot.’ [He knows] you never show your teammates up, even when they [mess] it up.”
And Jones, Gettleman said, showed off his toughness last year after missing only two games with a fractured clavicle. He also caught Gettleman’s attention in one particularly brutal showdown against Clemson last November, when he took a beating in a 35-6 rout.
Jones completed only 24 of 43 passes for 158 yards, was sacked four times and hit many more, yet he impressed the Giants by consistently standing in the face of a ferocious rush while his receivers repeatedly dropped passes.
“He’s a tough [guy] and he knows it — in his own way,” Gettleman said. “I saw him stand in there and take shots. He stood in there against Clemson and … oh, there are a couple times I’m saying, ‘Daniel go down, go down,’ and he just stands in there.”
From there, Jones’ performance in the Senior Bowl — when he bounced back from a three-and-out on his first drive to lead two touchdown drives and earn MVP honors — was the “cherry on top” for Gettleman, who saw a ready-made professional quarterback and, as evidenced by Shurmur’s postgame presser Sunday, wasn’t alone in that evaluation.
“This was a New York Giants [organizational] pick,” Gettleman said.
And while the season is still young and Jones will surely have bumps in the road, the young quarterback should know that the general manager who drafted him and the coach who raved about him have complete faith in his ability to, at the very least, handle all the highs and lows that are bound to come while playing in one of the league’s toughest media markets.
“This place, this league, you gotta have your big boy pants on all the time,” Gettleman said. “Daniel Jones has his big boy pants on.”
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