Every stat across the board supports the expectation that it will be a “David vs. Goliath” affair between the New York Giants (2-3) and undefeated Patriots (5-0), but that doesn’t make the ones behind the rookie quarterback’s first meeting against Tom Brady any less staggering.
Coming into his fourth NFL start, Jones, 22, has amassed two wins, 760 passing yards and four touchdown passes. Stacking Jones’ numbers next to the 42-year-old Brady’s 212 career wins, 71,923 yards and 527 TDs gives the matchup the distinction of having the largest differential between opposing starting QBs in those areas in NFL history, per NFL Research.
That note alone is enough to give you an idea of the type of mountain New York will have to climb against New England’s top-three scoring offense and defense. But what it doesn’t tell you is just how absurd it would be if they are able to pull it off.
Here are four things to watch for on Thursday Night Football, airing on FOX, NFL Network and Amazon Prime Video:
1. The Giants get smaller on offense
Rather than trotting out a lineup featuring a who’s who crop of skill players, the Giants‘ offense will be mostly made up of a group that’ll have viewers asking, “Who’s who?”
No disrespect to receiver Golden Tate, who’s playing in his second game after serving a four-game suspension, but the Giants confirmed Wednesday they will be without several key offensive threats. Running back Saquon Barkley (ankle) will miss his third game, and tight end Evan Engram (knee) and backup RB Wayne Gallman (concussion) will miss their first. Receiver Sterling Shepard is also out with a concussion, his second in four weeks.
Jones has spent limited time with each, but given that three of the four are first-teamers who have accounted for 284 of the team’s 580 rushing yards and 714 of the 1,316 receiving yards, their absences will be noticeable. In Weeks 4 and 5, Gallman contributed 132 total yards of offense in an expanded role with Barkley sidelined.
Of Jones’ 70 completions, 48 have gone to Shepard, Engram and Gallman for 506 yards and three TDs (one for each); expected starters Tate, WR Darius Slayton — the other recipient of a Jones TD toss — and TE Rhett Ellison have caught 17 of his throws for 200 yards. Jon Hilliman (two appearances) and Elijhaa Penny (five appearances), the remaining healthy RBs, have added two catches for 13 yards, to go with a combined 83 rushing yards on 27 carries.
Tate said on Tuesday he is “far from being unhappy” in New York after hauling in three of his six targets in his Week 5 return. Expect the receiving corps’ elder statesman to get more looks against the Patriots.
2. The Patriots’ defense is a problem (and then some)
The Patriots are good at football. That’s it, that’s the preview.
As many presumed, another year of New England’s empire has brought another year of dominance. The performance of the defense, however, is shaping up to reach levels of decadence not seen in Bill Belichick’s 19 years at the helm.
It’s still early but the Patriots, the beneficiaries of one of the NFL’s easiest schedules, currently rank first in — brace yourself — 10 categories, including total yards per game allowed (238.4), takeaways (12), sacks (24), opponent passer rating (44.0) and points per game allowed (6.8). Even considering they’ve faced Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Allen, Luke Falk and Colt McCoy under center, the numbers are stunning.
Belichick’s expanded role as a defensive play-caller has paid dividends, no matter the situation; according to Next Gen Stats, the Patriots rank first in passer rating in every major category except for tight window passes, in which they rank third. Side note: Jones has the seventh-lowest passer rating (22.9) in the league on tight window passes despite throwing them at the highest clip (27.5-percent).
That slight sliver of hope for Giants fans aside, New England has very few defensive holes, if any. And combining a stacked group of pass rushers (Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Michael Bennett, rookie Chase Winovich) with stellar defensive back play from Stephon Gilmore and the McCourty (Jason and Devin) twins, has once again made them favorites.
3. Can “Danny Dimes” become first rookie QB to win in Belichick’s den?
Of the 11 brave souls who have come before Jones, not a single rookie QB has beaten the Patriots when they’ve been at home with Brady in the lineup.
Jones has a chance to do the impossible in his prime-time debut.
Never mind the fact that the Pats are only the second team to ever prevent a passing TD and snag 10 interceptions in the first five games; Jones’ poise could help him break that streak.
Although the Giants rank 23rd in scoring offense, Jones has been on par with Brady since he took over in Week 3.
In Weeks 3-5, Jones has a higher completion percentage (63.8) and more yards per attempt (7.1) than Brady’s 60.2 and 6.5, respectively. The pair are also neck-and-neck in passer rating in that span (Brady ranks 21st at 86.2, Jones is 22nd at 85.5).
It’ll be some challenge, but if Jones makes history and has his hand raised in victory, he’ll also be able to add youngest QB to beat the Pats during the Brady/Belichick era to his resume.
4. Brady closing in on yet another accolade
It’s not yet the big one — he’ll need 2,922 yards to reach that — but Brady can pass Peyton Manning (71,940) for second-most passing yards in history while gunning for his franchise’s league-leading 52nd prime-time win since 2001.
Currently standing at 71,923, Brady needs just 18 yards to reach that feat.
With Drew Brees (74,845), the top spot holder, still active, it’s not a given the future Hall of Famer will usurp him but this latest accomplishment is another testament to his incredible run of success and his amazing longevity.
No one knows the exact moment it’ll occur, but NFL Research predicts, based on his 2019 metrics, he should do it by his third pass attempt. Make sure you have your cameras ready, Patriots fans.