MINNEAPOLIS -- When Brian Daboll took over as Giants head coach in January 2022, he took a job that appeared devoid of one crucial element: a franchise quarterback. Fresh off a four-year run overseeing Josh Allen's ascent as the Bills' perennial MVP candidate, Daboll's top inheritance at the position was an unofficial symbol of failed regimes past: Daniel Jones.
The No. 6 overall draft pick in 2019, Jones spent the first three years of his NFL career sharing blame for one of the league's most consistently dysfunctional offenses, totaling 49 turnovers in 37 games. Daboll's bosses decided early they'd bet against the 25-year-old QB, declining to exercise a fifth-year option that would've guaranteed his contract through 2023.
On Sunday, nearly a calendar year after Daboll and Jones joined proverbial hands, they forged a new identity for the QB.
As a pending free agent, Jones' future beyond this season is still unwritten. And detangling his growth from the influence of Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka is a complicated game. But one thing is definitively clear inside the Giants' locker room, which celebrated a 31-24 upset of the 13-4 Vikings on Super Wild Card Weekend: Jones is no longer just a former first-round flop, or a reclamation project, or a product of a system.
Right here, right now, even if just for a moment, he is the guy.
Sunday's numbers speak for themselves: head to head with Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson and Kevin O'Connell's high-flying Vikings, the former Duke product was nearly flawless before an occasionally deafening U.S. Bank Stadium crowd, becoming the first QB in playoff history to total at least 300 passing yards, 70 rushing yards and two passing touchdowns in a game. (Only Steve Young and Lamar Jackson, elite dual threats, have rivaled those marks.)
Jones also became the youngest Giants QB to win a playoff game since Eli Manning, who was responsible for 2011's Super Bowl XLVI title, the most recent postseason victory in New York. Perhaps most importantly, Jones never gave the ball away, matching the efficiency of a regular season that saw him control the rock at a better rate than anyone under center.
Does some of the credit belong to Daboll and Kafka, who so wisely executed third- and fourth-down calls to befuddle a hapless Vikings defense, and who got even more production from a receiving corps assembled with spare parts? Sure. But the men who take the huddle with Jones -- the ones who saw him stand tall and walk off a winner Sunday night -- know there's more to it.
"He was ready," says receiver Richie James, who caught four passes against Minnesota. "He was ready."
The postgame locker room, though celebratory at first, was unusually tame for a team fresh off its first playoff win in more than a decade. But that's a testament, players suggest, to the understated demeanor of the Giants' signal-caller.
"Confidence, man," wideout Marcus Johnson says of Jones' infectious strong suit. "Composure. One thing about Daniel: he doesn't get flustered. He always finds a way to keep his poise, continue to lead us in the right ways, and we rally around him. And I think today, we saw that to the full effect. ... When you talk about battle-tested, not only as a quarterback and a leader, he's definitely shown that week in and week out. When it's the fourth quarter, when the game's on the line, when a big play needs to be made, he finds a way to make it happen. I respect him so much, man. His game is consistent."
There are lots of long-term questions that arise from Sunday's shootout, which outdid even the Giants and Vikings' Christmas Eve tilt, in which Minnesota won on a 61-yard walk-off field goal. Why did O'Connell's upstart contender once again lose sight of its top playmaker, the electric Justin Jefferson, when it mattered most? What kind of overhaul awaits a Vikings "D" that refused to secure a convincing win in a season of much fortune and/or resilience? Can the Giants, after so many years of disappointment in the NFC East, actually carry this momentum into a deeper run to cap Daboll's debut?
One question that will not be asked inside the Giants organization -- either on the team bus, on the private plane or in the meeting rooms and practice fields that await, at least for this week -- is whether New York has a franchise QB. For now, all that matters in New York is Sunday night, and on Sunday night, with everything on the line, and a coaching staff finally behind him in word and action, Daniel Jones delivered.