TAMPA, Fla. — The first prominent high note in the Daniel Jones era of Giants football was a daring 7-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was a play that symbolically breathed new life into the Giants, whose sideline was clearly buoyed not just by the score but by its execution.
Here was a bold, designed dash by a rookie quarterback with the kind of dexterous mobility so common to the cadre of young quarterbacks lighting up the N.F.L. in the last two seasons.
About two hours later, Jones stood in the pocket on a critical fourth-down play in the game’s final two minutes. Starting his first game as Eli Manning’s replacement, Jones had been banged around by the Buccaneers defense, sacked five times and fumbled twice. He was missing his best offensive weapon, All-Pro running back Saquon Barkley, who was in the bench area on crutches with a sprained right ankle. Jones, whose Giants trailed by 18 points at halftime, was in a visiting stadium, enveloped by a raucous crowd that was on its feet roaring for the home team to hold a late, six-point lead and thwart this new-to-the-N.F.L. quarterback.
At that moment, Jones once again seized the moment with his legs, scrambling untouched into the end zone for another 7-yard touchdown, the game-winner, in the Giants’ stirring 32-31 comeback victory.
“Daniel is not afraid of anything on the field; he’s always got this poise,” said wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who was running a pass pattern in the end zone when Jones took off for the goal line. “If people don’t know that about him, maybe they do now.”
Shepard shook his head and smiled.
“Did you see his wheels?” he said. “Something serious, right? He picked everybody up.”
After the game, the soft-spoken Jones shied away from calling any of his exploits on Sunday rousing or inspiring.
“I just saw a crease open in the middle of the field and I took it,” he said.
With a sheepish grin, Jones added: “I mean, it was fun. It was an exciting last drive.”
The game’s final seconds did not lack drama as Tampa Bay kicker Matt Gay, who had previously failed to convert two extra points, missed a 34-yard field-goal attempt as time expired. That wide-right outcome had the Giants (1-2) cavorting all over the field. In the locker room afterward, the mood was no less festive, even as Barkley gingerly tried putting a sock over his injured ankle.
“It’s a sprain and we’ll see how it is tomorrow,” said Barkley. “I don’t want to miss any time, especially after the fight we showed in the second half. That was a terrific comeback — sort of what we needed.”
After a Buccaneers punt, the Giants began their final drive of the game at their 25-yard line with 3:16 left in the fourth quarter. In rapid-fire fashion, Jones completed four consecutive passes, the last a 36-yard reception to Shepard that advanced the Giants to the Tampa Bay 12-yard line.
A 5-yard catch by Bennie Fowler moved the Giants inside the Buccaneers’ 10-yard line. Two incomplete passes set up a fourth-and-goal at the 7-yard line. Jones dropped back to pass and waited. When no receiver seemed open, he sprinted into the middle of the end zone.
Barkley was injured when he was hit low and tackled after a 19-yard reception in Buccaneers territory. Tampa Bay defender M.J. Stewart fell on Barkley’s right ankle, which twisted awkwardly.
While Barkley’s absence seemed to temper the Giants’ mood initially, as the second half began, Jones continued to put on a show in his eventful starting debut.
On the first play of the second half, he tossed a short pass to tight end Evan Engram, who sprinted around the right end for 75 yards and a touchdown that cut the Buccaneers’ lead to 28-16. Jones then successfully converted the 2-point conversion try with a delicate, well-timed pass to Shepard.
After a Tampa Bay punt, Jones led the Giants on an eight-play scoring drive. The critical gain was a 46-yard reception by wide receiver Darius Slayton that moved the Giants to the Buccaneers’ 4-yard line.
“He’s pretty impressive,” Slayton said of Jones. “Even in practice this week, you could see he wasn’t out of his element. He was very focused and prepared.”
Four plays later after Slayton’s catch, while under pressure, Jones lofted an arching, precise pass into the right corner of the end zone, where it fell into the arms of Shepard for a 7-yard touchdown. The pass also deftly evaded double coverage by Tampa Bay, traversing through a very narrow window on its way to Shepard.
The score cut the Tampa Bay lead to 28-25.
The next two Giants possessions were fruitless as Jones was hounded in the pocket. After an interception by Giants linebacker Ryan Connelly, Jones was sacked again and fumbled the football when his arm was hit from behind as he attempted a pass.
That turnover led to a 23-yard field goal by Gay.
A chorus of cheers greeted Jones before his first play of the game — a reception from the thousands of Giants fans in the crowd, many of whom were wearing No. 10 Manning jerseys.
Jones’s first pass as an N.F.L. starter was an 18-yard completion to Engram on a crossing route. Several plays later, Jones had led the Giants to a 36-yard field goal by Aldrick Rosas that cut Tampa Bay’s first-quarter lead to 6-3.
The Giants’ defense aggressively blitzed Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston on many plays, and it did not pay off in the first half. The Buccaneers clearly anticipated the Giants’ intentions, calling a screen pass that caught the Giants short-handed. Running back Ronald Jones took the short pass 41 yards up the left sideline.
When the Giants blitzed again, Tampa Bay tight end O.J. Howard sliced across the middle for 18 yards. Two plays later, Mike Evans caught a 3-yard touchdown pass — his second — for a 12-3 Buccaneers lead.
But Jones rallied the downtrodden Giants. On a third-and-5, he scrambled around the end for a first down. On another pass play, he absorbed a blow in the pocket, then spun away, and while running to his left, he threw across his body to Barkley for 19 yards to the Tampa Bay 7-yard line. Two plays later, Jones faked an inside handoff, and in what appeared to be a run-pass option play, kept the football and sprinted to his right for the goal line. He scored virtually untouched. Giants Coach Pat Shurmur was quick to credit Jones’s agility as the key to the Giants comeback.
“A lot of plays are less than perfect,” Shurmur said. “And if you can move around, things start to clear up. That’s what I saw today.”
Asked if he had to calm Jones down when the Giants offense sputtered badly on successive drives in the third and fourth quarters, Shurmur shook his head side to side.
“No,” the coach answered. “He’s mature beyond all our years.”