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Giants’ fate rests on Daniel Jones taking big leap

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Joe Judge has hitched his wagon to Daniel Jones. The organization loves the kid, is convinced he is the right successor to Eli Manning.

The 2020 Giants, undoubtedly on cue from Joe Judge, took the high road Monday — in the wake of the unforgivable, unforgettable stunt that Doug Pederson pulled Sunday night when he pulled Jalen Hurts for Nate Sudfeld — recognizing that the 2021 Giants had better keep destiny in their own hands and not count on anyone else for help.

Which means that Daniel Jones must take the second-year leap that we were expecting from him in his third year.

And he knows it.

“Playing my best football next year is certainly my goal,” Jones said.

As rookies, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert made it look easy.

Daniel Jones, not so much.

He should be past his ball-security obsession enough now to honor the franchise quarterback’s mandate:

Get your team in the end zone, and win games.

Jones didn’t do enough of either this season.

In his 14 starts, the Giants scored only 257 points.

In his 26 career starts, his record is 8-18 (.308). Even Sam Darnold (13-25, .342) somehow has a better record.

Guilty … with some explanations.

New head coach. New offensive coordinator. Rebuilt offensive line with inexperienced left tackle, left guard and center. And man alive, does he need a No. 1 receiver who would make Sterling Shepard all the more dangerous. And yes, if Evan Engram had caught that deep shot against That Team Down South, the Giants would be preparing for Tom Brady.

Be that as it may, there are more questions about Jones entering this offseason than there were entering last offseason.

His pocket awareness did improve at the end of this season, and he thankfully did stop being a veritable turnover machine (11 fumbles, six lost, but just two over the last seven games). And when healthy, his legs become a weapon, even if they did betray him at the end of that 80-yard run against That Team Down South.

But his touchdown-to-interception ratio fell from 24-12 to 11-10.

You cannot expect to be a playoff team when your quarterback throws 11 TD passes.

“Throughout the season, I felt like we made considerable improvement week-to-week,” Jones said. “It wasn’t a straight incline, there were bumps in the road, there were games that we didn’t play as well and took steps back.”

Jason Garrett’s offense wasn’t as quarterback-friendly as advertised, but a lack of continuity is the enemy of young quarterbacks.

“I’ve loved working with [Garrett], and learned a ton from him,” Jones said. “He’s a tremendous football coach and tremendous person, and I’d love to continue to work with him.”

Following seven humbling starts as a rookie, Eli Manning in his second season (24 TDs, 17 INTs) — with a better supporting cast that included Tiki Barber, Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer and Jeremy Shockey — led Tom Coughlin and the Giants to their first playoff berth together, a disastrous 23-0 loss at home to the Panthers. After which a rattled Manning, who threw three interceptions, said: “I had some good games and some bad games. I’m still learning and still not anywhere near where I need to be. There’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Manning improved his completion percentage in his third season from 52.8 to 57.7, but the won-lost record slipped to 8-8 and his TDs and INTs (24 and 18) stayed virtually the same. It truly clicked for him toward the end of his fourth season on his march to Super Bowl MVP.

Jones should have a better offensive line blocking and Saquon Barkley back in 2021, so there can be no excuses. By the time next season ends, the Giants will want to know whether they trust him enough to make a long-term commitment to him. Ask Sam Darnold and the Jets about that.

“It’s a role that I’ve gotta continue to earn every day,” Jones said, “and if I’m not working to keep that role and to continue to improve, I understand what the business of the NFL is. So I’ll continue to do everything I can to prove that I so am that guy.”

This is what he has proved definitively: He is very much like Manning in a number of ways. He is physically and mentally tough. He is the same guy every day. He has the right makeup for this market. First one in the building, last one to leave. He has the arm. He has mobility. His commitment to excellence has earned him universal respect in the locker room, and in every precinct of the organization.

“Daniel’s a heckuva QB, everybody loves him in the locker room, all the coaches love him, you can’t say a bad thing about Daniel,” Nick Gates said.

Daniel Jones was the sixth pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, second quarterback taken, after Kyler Murray. Dave Gettleman would have been on the first rail out of town had he selected Dwayne Haskins. The 2021 Giants need Daniel Jones to play like the sixth pick of the draft.

“I think we’re close,” Jones said.

Close to the playoffs is not close enough. The ball — and the franchise’s destiny — is in his hands.

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