MINNEAPOLIS — In his first career playoff game, Daniel Jones made history. It prompted his running back to label him “elite.”
Jones became the first quarterback in NFL history to have 300 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and at least 70 rushing yards in a playoff game. He was undeniably dominant in his playoff debut, leading the New York Giants on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter en route to a 31-24 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
It had running back Saquon Barkley convinced that Jones is already among the NFL’s best.
“I know we have an elite quarterback,” Barkley said. “He’s shown that multiple times.”
Jones has been the Giants’ best player the second half of the season. And now it has carried over into the playoffs in a season where his future was at stake. Jones, who is a free agent at the end of the season, went 24-of-35 passing for 301 yards with two touchdowns against the Vikings. He added 78 yards rushing on 17 carries as New York won its first playoff game since its Super Bowl run in the 2011 season.
By that point, the debate about whether Eli Manning was “elite” was almost already settled. He was on his way to his second Super Bowl MVP.
The Giants had questions about Jones as recently as the start of this season, when they declined the fifth-year option in his rookie contract. He would have to prove to the new regime that he was capable of being a franchise pillar.
Jones, 25, has done that. He has checked just about every box: stayed healthy for a full season, eliminated a turnover problem, played well in key spots and now, added winning in the playoffs to his résumé.
“It means a lot. Means a lot,” Jones said of the victory, in which he again didn’t turn the ball over. “It’s a big win for us and grateful to be a part of it.”
Jones has one turnover in the past five games. He has accounted for nine touchdowns during that span.
The sixth-seeded Giants, who will face the Philadelphia Eagles in the divisional round, seem to almost expect this kind of dominant play from their quarterback on a weekly basis.
“Played good,” coach Brian Daboll said nonchalantly after winning his first playoff game as a head coach. “Played good.”
“Yeah, winning football,” Daboll added.
Talk about underplaying the performance. Jones was better than good, and everyone else who watched him seemed to notice. Even those on his own sideline.
Based on the reaction of his teammates afterward, when they mobbed him in the locker room, the brilliance Jones put on display for the entire nation to see was obvious.
Jones went 5-for-5 passing for 100 yards to go along with two rushes for 22 yards in the first quarter alone, when the Giants scored touchdowns on both their possessions.
“Amazing,” left tackle Andrew Thomas said of his quarterback’s play in Minnesota. “Made every play we asked him to make. Didn’t turn over the ball. When there was nothing open downfield, he scrambled and made plays. He was great for us (Sunday).”
Jones knew just how big this game was for him and his teammates. He called Manning late last week for advice on what a playoff game would be like. Manning told him the intensity would be raised, but it was incumbent on the Giants’ current starting quarterback to keep doing things the same as he had all season.
Jones did just that, even if it wasn’t just another game.
“I think there were definitely some nerves going into it,” Jones admitted. “We were excited. There was a lot of anticipating going into it. Once we settled in and started playing, it felt the same. It was just about execution and doing our job play after play. I thought as a group we did that well.”
If Jones was nervous at the start, it was impossible to tell. He was throwing darts and blowing past defenders. That didn’t change throughout the afternoon. The Vikings were without answers.
Daboll said afterward using Jones as a runner was part of the game plan. The Giants didn’t do it often in the previous meeting, when Jones had only four carries. The 17 attempts were a career high. His previous high was 12 earlier this season.
Seven of Jones’ rushes went for first downs as he joined Steve Young and Lamar Jackson as the only quarterbacks to throw for 300 yards and rush for at least 75 in a playoff game.
“For this game we thought that was something we didn’t do at all last game that we thought would be a little new wrinkle,” Daboll said. “I mean, people have seen us do them, but we have a wide variety of them.”
These wrinkles are a big part of what has elevated Jones to a new level. And has his teammates calling him elite.