It was one play. It was one run. It covered 32 yards. There were times, not so long ago, when Saquon Barkley firing off a 32-yard run would’ve elicited yawns. “Show me his two or three biggest runs,” you would’ve said to yourself, fast-forwarding through the Giants’ postgame highlight packages.
That was then.
This is now: Barkley carried the ball 12 other times Sunday afternoon against the Eagles, and he totaled 8 yards. That’s all of two-thirds of a yard for every other time he rushed the ball. He also caught the ball four times, for 13 yards. That is just over 3 yards per catch. Those numbers are, being kind, pedestrian.
But that 32-yard dash …
“He’s an explosive athlete,” Giants coach Joe Judge said, a day later.
“He will be a focal point of this offense going forward,” Judge declared.
“We need to give him the football as many times as we can,” Judge avowed.
We keep waiting on Saquon, on that Saquon, because before his body became a modern version of the old “Operation” table game that Saquon could take your breath away. He could make you think of old television tours through NFL Films, all the runs Barry Sanders used to invent on the spot.
We don’t get that a lot anymore. We get hints. We get teases. In Week 2 against the Washington Football Team, Barkley rattled off an old-school 41-yard run … and wound up with 16 total yards on 12 other carries. Two weeks later he gathered in a game-changing 54-yard scoring pass from Daniel Jones that turned what seemed destined to be a blowout loss to the Saints upside down; the Giants won in OT, 27-21, when Barkley ran 6 yards for the winning score.
Hints. Teases. A week later, in Arlington, Texas, he stepped on Jourdan Lewis’ foot, spraining his ankle. He later tested positive for COVID during his rehab. He returned in Tampa last week, barely, 12 touches for 56 yards from scrimmage.
And then, Sunday, early second quarter … BAM!
Barkley took the handoff, inched into the middle of the Eagles’ line, then planted his right foot and he was off, into the clear, shifting into top gear, untouched until he angled toward the sideline and Eagles cornerback Steven Nelson forced him out of bounds 32 yards later. It was dynamic. It was a worthy entrant into the Saquon canon.
And that was that.
And that has to change. If Barkley is feeling as well as he says he is, it’s time. If Judge is smart enough to realize that the only way his offense will ever maximize itself is to maximize Barkley, it’s time. If the Giants are going to salvage something of this season — to say nothing of the New York career of the No. 2 pick of the 2018 draft — it’s time.
It’s past time.
“I know I can do it,” Barkley said after the Giants’ 13-7 win. “I already know I can do it. A win is a win, but I know I’m going to continue to get better and better each week and each day. Continue to trust myself, trust my body, but I know it’s not like … something came and just took everything away from [me]. I’ve still got it. I’ve just got to do it more.”
And the Giants have to utilize him more, have to see if more reps will mean fewer 1- and 2-yard games (and 5- and 8-yard tackles for loss) and more vintage chunk gains. Barkley believes that. Judge believes that. Daniel Jones surely believes that, and would stand to be the second-biggest beneficiary.
Behind Barkley himself, of course, who has to show proof — to the Giants and everyone else — that he is still capable of being that Saquon. His football future — not to mention a generational pile of money that once seemed to be his for the asking — depends on it.
“We’ve got to find a lot of ways to get him the ball,” Judge said.
“I’ve got to be more productive in the run game for us,” Barkley said. “We’ve got to be more productive in the run game as a whole.”
Good thoughts. Good ideas. Time to see it. Starting Sunday in Miami.