FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The present is dreary, and watching Daniel Jones progress through his rookie season is all fine and dandy, but it does not make what the Giants are going through in their rebuilding process much more palatable on a week-to-week basis.
The development of Jones, who took over for a benched Eli Manning only two games into the season, is the central theme, but far from the only theme the Giants need to stress as they bump along. The next test, probably an assignment Jones cannot ace or even pass, comes Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, where the unbeaten Patriots figure to be far too imposing for the Giants to stand in against. The Giants will be without Saquon Barkley (ankle), Evan Engram (knee) and Sterling Shepard (concussion), all of whom were officially ruled out on Wednesday. And heading into a knife fight with a bunch of twigs is no way end a short workweek and every way a precursor to a nationally televised obliteration.
Making matters worse is a miserable weather forecast, with rain expected throughout the game and winds gusting to as high as 40 mph.
Ever since that fateful and fortuitous night 2008 in Glendale, Ariz., on Feb. 3, 2008, the Giants and the Patriots in the same building sends all those memories and miracles surging to the surface. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are still at it, but Manning has receded into the background, a spectator on game day with his franchise turning to Jones.
Brady, 42, and Manning, 38, will exchange pleasantries on the field in what almost certainly will be their final get-together as contemporaries. It was Manning as the MVP of Super Bowls XLII and XLVII denying Belichick and Brady two more Lombardi Trophies and that nostalgia, contrasted with Manning’s backup status is a reason this game has a different feel.
It is no wonder Belichick earlier this week said, “I have a ton of respect for Eli and all he’s done. I wish he’d done a little bit less in a couple games against us.’’
Brady and Belichick have won six Super Bowls together and it would be eight if not for Manning and the Giants.
“He’s a great person,’’ Belichick said of Manning. “Very professional. Team oriented. I spent over a decade at the Giants, and I have an appreciation for playing quarterback for that franchise in that environment. I think he’s done a tremendous job and certainly had a lot of success against us.’’
As Belichick and Brady remain front and center, Manning’s presence is as behind the scenes as the wizard hiding behind the curtain, except Manning is not pulling any strings. Manning has not spoken with the media since Sept. 18, the day after the announcement was made he was no longer the starter. Manning’s locker is where it always was, but he steers clear of the locker room whenever the media is present. He has politely denied interview requests. Manning has no interest in taking any of the attention away from Jones, has no interest in discussing his role as the backup and has no interest in illuminating anyone as to what he does to help Jones on a day-to-day basis.
Belichick is 0-2 against Manning in Super Bowls and you get the sense if he had a vote for the Hall of Fame, he would make his super slayer a first-ballot selection.
You also get the sense Jones is the sort of quarterback Belichick views as a worthy successor.
“Eli is very good at the line of scrimmage of making adjustments and protections and occasionally signaling routes against pressure and things like that,’’ Belichick said. “He may have done a little more of that on the line than Jones has. Jones is fast, and he’s made plays with his legs outside the pocket. He’s got the ability to extend plays and also run for yardage to score or pick up critical first downs. He has kind of the sixth-receiver element. Both guys are very accurate passers, see the field well, make good decisions. They are at different stages of their career, but both guys are outstanding players. Any team would like to have either one of them and they are fortunate they have both.’’