The opportunity was there for New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones to be the hero. Except for the third time in five weeks, he didn't make it happen on a potential game-winning or game-tying drive.
The Giants were tied at 34 with the Dallas Cowboys in the final two minutes on Sunday at AT&T Stadium. The Giants had the ball and a game-winning drive led by Jones, the young quarterback they hope is their future, could have eased the doubts that come with a three-win record to start his career.
The drive began so with so much promise. On the second play, Jones escaped pressure (there always seems to be pressure), ran to his right and fired a strike to wide receiver Darius Slayton before he ran out of room on the sideline. The completion went for 14 yards and got the Giants to the 38-yard line, where they would need only another 25 yards or so for the near-automatic Graham Gano to kick the game-winning field goal.
It didn't happen. Didn't even come remotely close to happening. The Giants gained one yard on two short passes to running back Dion Lewis and, on third down, Jones rolled right (escaping pressure, as usual) and failed to connect with an open Lewis.
"The third-down play, got to find someone and make a play there for us," said Jones, who threw the ball near Lewis' feet with the two apparently not on the same page. "Tough situation, ball's in our hands, and we got to find a way to win the game."
Andy Dalton would then show Jones how it's done. The backup QB took Dallas 72 yards on four plays after beginning at his own 12-yard line to set up Greg Zuerlein's 34-yard field goal for a 37-34 win as time expired. Made it look easy, really.
This is what you want to see from Jones, the 23-year-old who was drafted No. 6 overall last year out of Duke. This was supposed to be part of the progression. Instead, the Giants have suffered painful losses to the Chicago Bears (17-13 in Week 2), Los Angeles Rams (17-9 in Week 4) and Dallas.
The Bears game ended with a fourth-down incompletion near the end zone. The Rams game ended with a costly interception in the red zone. And Sunday, the final drive barely got started before stalling.
Quarterbacks, more than any other position, are graded by wins and losses. Jones is now 3-14 as a starter after Sunday's loss and the Giants (0-5) are one of three winless teams remaining this season.
They know they're getting better but are still not winning. The same can be said of Jones, who gets his next chance at victory Sunday against the Washington Football Team.
"Well, that's all that really matters, to be honest with you, the progress that we're making right now," Giants coach Joe Judge said. "The record will come in time. Obviously, we're not happy about losses ... but I've seen a lot of progress on all fronts and all units. We have to keep making consistent progress to keep being a better team as the year goes [on]."
That's essentially a concession that a lot of the losing is not Jones' fault. The Giants' offensive line was subpar (probably a generous assessment) last season and through the first five games of this season. The supporting cast around Jones isn't even close to playoff caliber.
He has a lot working against him on most Sundays, especially without star running back Saquon Barkley. That might partially explain why Jones has thrown two touchdown passes (none since the opener against Pittsburgh) with eight turnovers and come up short in all three clutch spots this season.
Then again, there was Dalton doing it for the Cowboys behind an unrecognizable offensive line and with little time to prepare throughout the week. Jones was facing a Dallas defense that came into Sunday as the worst unit in the league by a wide margin.
Jones has now had the ball on the Giants' final possession eight times in 17 starts with a chance to tie or win the game. He came through twice -- in Week 3 last year against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his first career start and in Week 15 last season against Washington.
It's not anything that should set off alarms or compel the Giants to move on to another quarterback now or after this season. Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes led only three fourth-quarter, game-winning drives in his first 17 starts. And he already has an MVP and a Super Bowl on his résumé.
Still, it would have silenced a few more of the whispers about Jones as the Giants remain in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick (and Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence) in next year's NFL draft. Even if none of the doubters are from within.
"Through the roof," Slayton said of his confidence in Jones even after the latest loss. "I believe that every ball that comes off his hands is going to be on the money. If you watch him play and watch the balls, it normally is. It doesn't affect my view of him -- what other people have to say about him. At the end of the day, I work with him every day. I play with him in every game. I know what he brings to the table. Nothing that anybody can say from the outside is going to affect my belief or view of him."
That's fine, and the way it should be. But as long as the Giants keep losing and Jones continues to fail to lift a sluggish team, the questions will linger. Can he carry a team when needed most? Can he stop with the costly turnovers, a total now at 31 in 17 starts after a sack/fumble that was returned for a touchdown against the Cowboys?
Sunday was another missed opportunity to prove them wrong. And he has to get it right soon.