SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Daniel Jones represented the Giants’ best chance Thursday night.
If the Giants were going to upset the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium and turn this western road trip into a highly successful two-win sweep, their quarterback was going to have to be the difference-maker.
To be clear: Jones wasn’t the reason the Giants lost 30-12 to the favored 49ers. There was plenty of blame to go around. Their defense was unable to get off the field on third downs. They tackled poorly. They had no running game and dodgy pass protection.
But Jones could have been the reason the Giants won the game.
Instead, he wasn’t. And subsequently, they didn’t.
Maybe that is unfair and maybe it isn’t, but the Giants needed Jones to play like the $40 million-per-year player he’s paid to be and to outplay Brock Purdy, the 49ers’ second-year quarterback who was starting his eighth NFL game.
Jones went 22-for-32 for a quiet 137 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a passer rating of 64.2.
Purdy was the better, more efficient quarterback and because of that he’s 8-0 as a starter in the regular season. He went 25-for-37 for 310 yards with two touchdowns, no turnovers and a rating of 111.3.
Purdy, who was “Mr. Irrelevant’’ in the 2022 NFL Draft as the 262nd and final player selected, was far more relevant than his $40 million-per-year counterpart.
“Not good enough,’’ Jones said when asked after the game to assess his performance. “Not good enough.’’
You want to make the argument that Purdy had better, more explosive skill-position playmakers on his side (Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle) while Jones was missing his best offensive player, running back Saquon Barkley, who was out with an ankle sprain?
But Jones had his full complement of receivers and even had Wan’Dale Robinson for the first time this season, and he simply couldn’t mount much of a fight.
When the 49ers took a 17-3 lead with 1:40 remaining in the first half, consider these significant stats:
— Offensive plays run: 49ers 41, Giants 17.
— Offensive yards: 49ers 245, Giants 51
— First downs: 49ers 15, Giants 3
— Time of possession: 49ers 19:47, Giants 8:33.
And the number that was the true killer — one that turns defensive coordinators’ stomachs sour the quickest — was that the 49ers had gone 7-for-10 on third-down conversions in the first half.
Four days earlier, in a stirring 31-28 comeback victory at Arizona, Jones brought his team back from deficits of 20-0 at halftime and 28-7 in the third quarter.
He went from Danny Dead Man Walking to Danny Dimes on a dime. After the loss Thursday, he looked like Dejected Danny.
“We just didn’t make enough plays,’’ Jones lamented.
Jones had nothing going offensively in the first half of that game against the Cardinals. The Giants had zero points, 81 total yards of offense and only five first downs. Jones was 9-for-16 for 62 yards and an interception, the result of a Barkley dropped pass.
They were six quarters into the 2023 season and had been outscored 60-0, with Jones and the offense looking lost.
And then Jones suddenly came alive in the third quarter against the Cardinals. He engineered a 21-point comeback, delivered 24 unanswered points and looked every bit the $40 million quarterback he’s paid to be.
Against Arizona, he went 17-for-21 for 259 yards with touchdown passes and rushed for 58 yards and a TD. He looked like the quarterback the Giants needed him to be Thursday night.
But that Jones second-half mojo from Arizona didn’t make the trip to California. That magic was missing on Thursday night.
With the Giants trailing 23-12 early in the fourth quarter, facing third-and-11 from the their own 24-yard line, Jones had Darren Waller open deep over the middle, but his throw was high and behind the big tight end, forcing a punt.
“I just missed the throw,’’ Jones said.
“It was an 11-point game there and it sailed over [Waller’s] head a little bit,’’ head coach Brian Daboll said. “It was a little bit high. It was overthrown.’’
Earlier, Waller was open late in the second quarter on a second-and-3 and Jones was high with his throw. One play later, he missed Isaiah Hodgins and the Giants had to settle for a 57-yard Graham Gano field goal to cut the San Francisco lead to 17-6 at the half.
“Obviously, it’s a good defense we’re going up against and credit to them. They play well,’’ Jones said. “But we’ve got to convert a couple of those opportunities. When you play a good team like that, you’ve got to be crisp and clean, and we didn’t do that.’’
Jones wasn’t poor on Thursday night. He just wasn’t great. He wasn’t the difference-maker he was four days earlier.
On a night when the Giants were clear-cut underdogs, they needed Jones to be a difference-maker.
And he wasn’t.
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