JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Daniel Jones did not deserve to lose this game, did not deserve watching the Giants defense survive by the skin of its teeth, did not deserve watching Trevor Lawrence attempting a last-second 17-yard TD pass to Christian Kirk.
The football gods owed Daniel Jones this 23-17 victory, owed him Fabian Moreau and Julian Love and a host of Giants stopping Kirk at the 1-yard line on the very last play and rescuing Saquon Barkley from failing to get out of bounds near the end, owed him the sight of a snow angel from an exhausted and exhilarated Kayvon Thibodeaux, owed bathing in the warm, sweet cheers from roaring Giants fans clad in a sea of blue.
Because given the circumstances, and what had collapsed around him, Daniel Jones played arguably the best game of his career since his NFL debut, and lo and behold, the Giants are 6-1 and don’t give a damn what the shell-shocked so-called experts in the outside world think of them.
Jones lost two offensive linemen — LG Ben Bredeson and RT Evan Neal —to injury in the first half and then rookie TE Daniel Bellinger (eye), yet calmly, cooly, collectedly led his fifth game-winning drive anyway this season with his arm and with his legs.
Here’s who he was on this day, a day when the Jaguars suffocated Barkley early and often, although not late when they had been softened up:
A more athletic young Eli Manning.
He was 19 of 30 for 202 yards with a 32-yard TD strike to Darius Slayton on the opening possession and ran for a career-best 107 yards as he continues to make his Quarterback of the Future argument.
He positioned his 1-yard TD keeper that capped a 10-play, 79-yard crunch-time drive with a 24-yard romp around the right end followed by a 9-yard run.
“I think we all want to be in the pressure situation where you have to deliver,” Jones said. “We’ve done a good job of doing that.”
The mask that he has worn ever since the torch was passed to him came off when he flashed an uncharacteristic moment of emotion — “Catch the ball!” — after WR Marcus Johnson could not hold a short fourth-down slant that would have set up first-and-goal at the Jacksonville 1:
He chastised himself for it afterward, but there isn’t a Giants fan who didn’t appreciate the rare display of his raging competitive fire.
“Heat of the moment … I wish I could have that situation back,” Jones said. “I pride myself in being composed in those situations. I got full faith and confidence in the world in Marcus. Disappointed that I let that happen … I’m competitive, it’s heat of the moment, I think you get fiery. Obviously you want to score there. I got a lot of confidence in him, and don’t want to do that to any teammate.”
Center Jon Feliciano didn’t mind it at all.
“I’m on him to just always to let that show, because he’s a competitor … he hates losing,” Feliciano said, “and guys feed off of that.”
Even Easy Eli let it show in the hottest of the moments.
“He’s really been consistent since we’ve had him,” Brian Daboll said. “Makes the right decision. Throws it to the right guy. Operating our offense the way we need him to operate our offense.”
The football gods were compassionate enough to nullify an interception thanks to a roughing the passer call.
“Trying to make the right decision with the ball, and protect it when I can,” Jones said. “A couple of ’em today we got lucky today on and try to just keep putting the team in a position to make plays at the end of the game.”
Jones is finding ways to win after finding ways not to win across his first three seasons.
“I don’t care what people around the league do. F— ’em. F— all the people around the league,” Thibodeaux said. “Only people that matter is the people in this room. Only people that’s gonna dictate what happens on Sundays is people in this room.”
It was Daniel Jones who dictated what happened when he lifted his team when it was dragging.
“He’s an examplar of a great teammate,” Thibodeaux said, “a great football player and he’s our leader, so we just stay behind whether good or bad, but yeah, he’s been playing helluva good ball and we’re gonna keep going.”
And they’re gonna keep dancing to “Juicy” after each and every win.
“There’s a part of the song, it’s like, ‘If you don’t know, now you know,’ ” Feliciano said.
Daniel Jones and the Giants are 6-1. Now you know.
This story originally appeared on NYPost