Saquon Barkley’s resurgence is good news for the Giants

In one of the most important plays of Sunday’s win over the Titans, New York’s Saquon Barkley didn’t even touch the ball.

Trailing 20-13, but standing at the Tennessee 17 with just over two minutes left in the game, the Giants were facing a crucial fourth-and-1. Convert, and hope will survive. Fail and the Giants would lose their sixth consecutive season opener. So with a yard to go, you give the ball to Barkley and hope, right?

NOT this time. Quarterback Daniel Jones faked a handoff to Barkley, who pulled nearly the entire Nissan stage to the right side of the line…leaving Jones a clear field to climb for a first down. Four plays later, the Giants were in the end zone and a successful Barkley dive followed, and the Giants took their first lead with 69 seconds left in the game.

Jones was able to run so free, so untouched, because Barkley was so dominant all game, piling up 164 yards on 18 carries and another 30 yards on six receptions. His 68-yard rumble for a touchdown was his longest since his sophomore year in 2019. The Titans simply couldn’t afford to take him for granted Sunday, preseason rankings and tough judgments about his remaining skills his, nevertheless.

Barkley looked, in short, like the kind of back the Giants dreamed of getting when they drafted him second overall in 2018 — and dropped him right in the middle of a maelstrom of poor planning, inept management, misguided coaching and organizational dysfunction. he ended up sabotaging even Barkley’s immense talent. A torn ACL cost him all but two games of the 2020 season, an injury he’s just now recovering from.

“That first year (after the injury) was difficult. But the second year is even better,” Barkley said after the game. “At the end of the day, I learned a lot from last year. “Keep trusting this process” made me able to go out there today and not even think about it.

Before anyone starts dreaming of another Giants postseason — or even a winning record — it’s worth remembering that New York needed Tennessee kicker Randy Bullock to miss a game-winning long field goal on three of four attempts. Within the division, while Dallas may be in a slump, Washington looked unexpectedly rattled and Philadelphia lived up to all the promise of the offense, posting the NFC’s highest Week 1 point total heading into Monday night.

January is still a long way off. From Week 1, the Giants made their first sign of the brand new Brian Daboll era: don’t be shy.

For much of the game, however, Daboll’s Giants looked a lot like Joe Judge’s Giants, or Pat Shurmur’s Giants, or just about every Giants team since the Tom Coughlin Super Bowl run. Down 13-0 at halftime, the Giants appeared lethargic and outmatched. And when Jones threw a crushing interception in the Titans’ end zone with less than nine minutes left in the game, the familiar story — the same old Giants, time after time — seemed to be playing out.

But on their very next possession, Barkley and the Giants got right back down the field — in large part because of Barkley’s crucial 33-yard gain. And even though Barkley fumbled at the end of that drive, fate seemed to cut it for the Giants when the ball bounced out of bounds at the Tennessee 11. Soon after: that game-changing touchdown and conversion.

“I knew we were going to have a great game and make some plays,” Barkley said. “It was just when the time was right. It really wasn’t just a mindset change, it was about going out there and just believing in myself, trusting myself and letting my God-given ability shine through.”

The two-point clincher serves as an important object lesson in how things are different now. The call was bold enough in itself, aggressive when other Giants regimes would be passive.

Out on the field, Barkley looked toward the sideline and saw Dumbledore holding up two fingers. The two then made eye contact.

“He gave me this look,” Barkley said, “and I kind of looked at him and said, ‘F— yeah.’

Aggression is one thing, execution is another. The play – a shovel for Barkley inside – almost collapsed before it began, a stormy end to what had been a brief glimmer of hope. Had the play failed, the Giants would have been shredded on New York sports talk Monday morning. But Barkley’s legs kept shuffling, and he forced his way into the end zone, and for the first time in years the Giants are holding their heads a little higher.

“They’re not all going to be perfect,” Jones said, referring to the two-point conversion that almost wasn’t. “Fortunately, when you have Saquon Barkley, you make it.”

NASHVILLE, FL – SEPTEMBER 11: Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants celebrates after beating the Tennessee Titans in an NFL football game at Nissan Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)

_____

Contact Jay Busbee at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *