They were on the 14th hole at Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell, New Jersey, and Barkley’s patented chirping was only getting louder.
The two close friends and Giants teammates were on opposing teams in this match, and Barkley’s tandem was 4 up with five left to play. This was a chance to close it out.
That is until Jones’ tee shot landed 40 feet from the cup on the par-3, and he coolly sank the uphill birdie putt to lead his team to victory on the hole, and ultimately the match.
Jones barely even blinked after the putt.
“I’m a good money putter,” Jones told ESPN with a chuckle recently when asked how he handles pressure.
Jones now needs to find that money stroke on the football field. That’s the expectation for someone who signed a four-year, $160 million contract this offseason. In the early going, the return on investment has been underwhelming.
He entered Week 4 22nd in QBR while the Giants sat at 1-2 with the fewest points scored (43) in the NFC. Jones and the New York offense could hardly operate against the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, and played one good half against the Arizona Cardinals.
The money only makes him a bigger target.
“A lot of people who make all that money don’t even deserve it,” 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw said after a 30-12 drubbing of Jones and the Giants.
Greenlaw was one of several Niners to take swipes at the quarterback after the game.
“Yeah, I guess some people are like that where they feel the need to do that,” Jones said. “That’s fine. That’s part of it.”
The pressure remains on Jones’ shoulders when the Giants host the Seattle Seahawks on “Monday Night Football” (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Giants need the win considering the ensuing road trip includes matchups with the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills.
Jones — who is 1-11 as a starter in prime time — will almost certainly be without Barkley (ankle) for a second straight game, a tall task considering the Giants rushed for 29 yards on 11 carries against the 49ers in his absence in the Sept. 21 loss.
IT TOOK ONLY a few seconds after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called Jones’ name as the No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 draft for the former Duke star to realize the expectations and pressure involved with playing quarterback for the Giants.
“As soon as I got drafted you do media for two hours after, and I hadn’t experienced anything like that,” Jones said.
“It’s a whole different ballgame coming from college football to the NFL and certainly a different ballgame in New York.”
Add to that the new contract, and suddenly those tight-window throws become even more scrutinized. When he misses, as he did in the season-opening 40-0 loss to the Cowboys, a game in which Jones’ QBR was 8.2, the criticism will not be hard to find.
“That stuff is going to happen regardless,” wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. “It don’t matter. Nobody in here gives a s— about all the outside stuff or what the outside thinks because they don’t know what it’s like to be in this position. It doesn’t make no sense to listen to that stuff.”
Jones generally doesn’t. He does a good job of sheltering himself from the outside world. In fact, he once told ESPN he rarely knew there was a firestorm going on outside the building unless it was relayed to him by his mother.
And when he does know, he has found a comfortable routine that helps him cope. Jones talks with a sports psychologist weekly, and uses his family as an additional sounding board. He also does yoga regularly.
Jones, 26, said he does it all to get “perspective from people I trust and different things to think about that I don’t think of immediately.”
The fifth-year quarterback also rarely uses social media — he has put up three posts on X this year — and his in-season involvement on Instagram is an occasional ad or promotion.
“There is going to be a story somehow, some way,” Barkley said. “He’s the quarterback of the New York Giants. It’s tough when it comes to the media side of it. The way that he is, anyone who knows Daniel closely or is just able to observe him from the outside, the type of person he is, his work ethic, it’s built him for the moment.”
Jones made massive strides last year under coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. He finished sixth in QBR at 62.9 after never previously coming close to cracking the top 10. He performed especially well down the stretch, with nine touchdown passes and just three interceptions in the final eight games of the regular season before a dominant performance in the wild-card round.
It’s why the Giants have put a lot on Jones’ plate this season.
“He’s very consistent in his approach, really since I’ve been here,” Daboll said. “Whether it’s in OTAs, the first game of the season, the Monday night game, he’s in here early, he’s meeting with players. He’s a very composed individual. He doesn’t get high. He doesn’t get low. He’s very steady. He focuses on the things he can work on and meets quite a bit with the other players as well.”
The money only adds to the equation. Jones is guaranteed $82 million over the first two years of the deal and plays in one of the NFL’s biggest markets.
“He doesn’t need to apologize that he had his best year in a time when they needed to redo [his contract],” said former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck, who backed up Eli Manning on the Giants from 2005 to ’07. “That is not your fault. You don’t need to apologize for that. There is no question [the money] is part of [the criticism], but I would also argue for him to play the way he did last year, not everyone can do that.”
JONES HAD PERHAPS the best game of his career in last season’s wild-card round when the pressure was at its highest. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to record 300-plus passing yards, 2-plus passing touchdowns and 70-plus rushing yards in a playoff game.
The Giants beat the Vikings 31-24 that day for their first postseason win in over a decade. Jones went 24-for-35 passing for 301 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to rushing 17 times for 78 yards. It helped him land that massive contract, which now has him tied for 10th among highest-paid quarterbacks, averaging $40 million per season.
Jones is easily the highest-paid player on the Giants, so when things go bad, he’s the lightning rod.
“Nah, man, at this point, we’ve done been through it all,” wide receiver Darius Slayton said. “[The 40-0 season-opening loss to the Cowboys] was pretty bad but, s—, 4-12 [in 2021] was pretty bad. We’ve been through a lot at this point, and for him, he takes it all in stride.”
Jones’ first career start in 2019 featured a dramatic comeback in Tampa Bay. The Giants trailed by 18 points and he ran for the game-winning touchdown with 1:16 remaining. It was on that drive that Jones, normally soft-spoken, stepped into the huddle and declared “Let’s f—ing score.”
Giants fans may be echoing that sentiment.
After the shutout loss to the Cowboys, Jones and the Giants faced a 20-point halftime deficit against the Cardinals. Those 60 points the Giants allowed before scoring their first point of the season were the second-most unanswered points to begin a season since the 1970 merger, and the most since the 1978 Baltimore Colts (86).
Jones went 17-of-21 passing for 259 yards and two passing touchdowns while adding eight rushes for 58 yards and another touchdown in the second half alone against Arizona. He struggled just days later on Thursday night, throwing for 137 yards with an interception against the 49ers.
This is where the comps to the even-keeled Manning check out.
“I feel like there are so many opportunities in the NFL to ride the roller coaster if you want to, and I feel like he just refuses to get on it,” tight end Darren Waller said. “If you look at, we’re like, what, 60-0 in our first six quarters? There are turnovers, there’s drives that aren’t getting there, and it’s just like, you don’t see him wearing it, you don’t see him pointing at other guys or getting mad on the sidelines. It’s just eventually as long as we keep plugging into this process and trying to do things the right way, it’s going to turn for us.
“And that energy paid off [in Arizona], and it’s something that you can follow.”
With more money comes the reality that there is additional responsibility and pressure on the quarterback. All of a sudden, in the salary cap league, where Jones takes up 7% of the cap this year and a projected 18% next year, there becomes less money to go around for the supporting cast.
Jones has to play well in order for the Giants to win. That was evident once again in the first three games of the season.
“Pressure putts, on the football field, shooting free throws, no matter what, it’s his everyday life, his standard,” Barkley said. “He’s built for anything.”