In winning their first Week 1 game in six years in theatrical fashion, the G-Men feel like a new team — and at long last, it’s their franchise running back who’s leading the way.
That 2016 primetime game — also the last time the first NFL Sunday of the year fell on 9/11 — was a 20-19 win over the rival Dallas Cowboys. This time around, Big Blue also won by a single point in even more dramatic fashion, thanks in large part due to Saquon Barkley finally looking and playing like the absolute machine of a running back he was in 2018 and ’19, his first two seasons in the league.
Down 13-0 at halftime, the G-Men got 164 rushing yards and a touchdown from Barkley in a thrilling 21-20 road win over the Tennessee Titans that saw him catch a two-point conversion pass— a bold, ballsy move from new head coach Brian Daboll in his debut— with 1:06 left in the game to earn the franchise’s most cathartic win in a long time.
Performances like this have been few and far between for Barkley, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, since he tore his ACL in Week 2 of the 2020 campaign against Chicago. The 25-year-old Bronx-born bruiser was healthy enough to play in 13 games last season, but registered just one 100-yard game in Week 17 (incidentally, also against the Bears). On Sunday, staring down a Titans defense that ranked No. 2 in the league in rushing yards allowed per game in 2021 with just 84.6, Saquon nearly doubled that total by looking like a player renewed.
“You saw the explosiveness. It was fun to watch him,” said Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, who completed 17 of his 21 passes for 188 yards for two touchdowns and an end zone interception. “He’s had a great camp. Seeing where he’s come from, he’s battled back from a lot of adversity, a lot of injuries, to see what he did today was a lot of fun to watch as a teammate and a friend.”
Barkley displayed the thunderous burst, agility, and power that made him a superstar at Penn State and a tantalizing pro prospect, rumbling for a 68-yard gain down the left sideline in the third quarter that was his single longest run since 2019. That set up a four-yard TD run capping off a 90-yard drive that brought the Giants within 13-6 after a missed extra point.
A 65-yard TD toss from Jones to Sterling Sheppard would tie the game only to see Tennessee take a seven-point advantage right back. When the Giants got the ball with 5:27 left in the fourth quarter and rattled off a touchdown drive to get themselves back within one, Daboll immediately put up two fingers to go for the win in his first-ever regular season game as NFL head coach.
He was rewarded. Barkley took a shovel pass from Jones and knifed his way into the end zone to take a lead the G-Men wouldn’t relinquish.
That moment of sheer belief in Saquon’s ability despite every struggle he’s been forced to confront over the past two years spoke volumes.
“He told us he was going to be aggressive and he told us he was going to lean on the players to make plays,” Barkley said of Daboll’s approach. “In that situation, we did exactly that. When you have a coach like that, it definitely will make you go out there and fight for him and execute in that situation.”
Aided by a couple of key defensive penalties, Tennessee managed to set up a 47-yard field goal attempt that would have won the game, but Randy Bullock that missed wide left.
In an instant, thousands of days of Week 1 futility were over, giving Big Blue a rare jolt of hope.
Barkley earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2018, rushing for more than 1,300 yards and gaining more than 2,000 yards total from scrimmage to go along with 15 total touchdowns. He’s scored just 13 NFL TDs since, eight of those coming in 2019. With both Saquon and Jones free agents after this season, what was once believed to be a foundational, franchise-altering duo has its last, best chance here in 2022 to vindicate their earliest backers.
Under Daboll and new general manager Joe Schoen, it’s surely only a matter of time before a wave of new signings comes in as part of their effort to make the team truly their own. In the meantime, it’s up to both Barkley and Jones to play so compellingly well that new contracts are no-brainers. Saquon, whose $38 million rookie deal expires at season’s end, answered the call with a sensational Sunday, going a long way toward earning his keep as not just an indispensable cog on the field, but a leader off it as well.
The Giants’ next three games are at home against the rebuilding Carolina Panthers, the Dak Prescott-less Dallas Cowboys, and the rebuilding Chicago Bears. For Barkley, Jones, Daboll, and Big Blue, perhaps we’re finally witnessing the start of something truly positive for a franchise with just one playoff appearance since its Super Bowl-winning 2011 campaign.
Saquon Barkley Contract & Salary Details
All dollar figures via Spotrac.
Years: 5 (includes fifth-year team option)
Total value: $38,601,750
Average annual value: $7,720,350
Total guaranteed money: $38,601,750
Free agency: 2023
2022 salary: $7,217,000
2022 cap hit: $7,217,000
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