LANDOVER, Md. — It is a testament to just how quickly Saquon Barkley has become a transformational running back for the Giants that Eli Manning made this startling proclamation after Sunday’s 40-16 drubbing of the Redskins.
A few minutes after Barkley’s spectacular 14-carry, 170-yard, one-touchdown performance against an admittedly undermanned Washington team beset by injuries on both sides of the ball, Manning said Barkley has become the central focus of the team’s offense.
“He’s a tremendous player, and I think we’re starting to figure out that this offense runs through him a little bit,” said Manning, who also had a terrific afternoon with three touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 132.0 rating.
Think about that a moment. When’s the last time Manning would have even considered a time when the running game would be the deciding factor in how his offense would perform?
Manning, a two-time Super Bowl MVP who is in the twilight of his career but still is capable of producing some command performances when the circumstances are right, had to think way back to when he’d last had that thought.
“Early on with Tiki in 2005 and 2006, some of those years, it was going through Tiki,” said Manning, referencing Tiki Barber’s central role during Manning’s formative years, well before he became a championship quarterback. “But probably since then, not as much.”
Almost not at all.
Since then, the offense has been about Manning, with its success rising or falling based on his play. Good Eli usually equated to good offense. Bad Eli had the reverse effect.
But with Barkley adding a dimension in the backfield that Manning rarely has had, the rookie has become that good and that important to the operation.
“When we’re running the ball well, it just sets up everything else,” Manning said. “It sets up the play-action. Today, probably got more man-to-man coverage than we’ve seen all season. [The Redskins] probably had an emphasis on slowing down Saquon.”
Even without playmaking receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who sat out with a quadriceps injury, the Giants put on a splendid offensive showing that revolved around their 6-foot, 233-pound locomotive running back. He had two spectacular runs in the first half to help the Giants effectively end the game before intermission.
The first was a 78-yard touchdown run in which he found a crease at the line of scrimmage after wide receiver Sterling Shepard stood up safety D.J. Swearinger. Barkley dashed into the open field down the left side and went untouched into the end zone to give the Giants a 17-0 lead with 8:42 left in the second quarter.
Later in the quarter, with the Giants up 24-0, Shepard provided another key block downfield – this time leveling cornerback Josh Norman – as Barkley ripped off a 52-yard run. That set up a touchdown that gave the Giants a 31-0 lead.
Barkley wound up with 159 yards rushing on 10 carries in the first half. He became the first Giants rookie to rush for 1,000 yards in franchise history.
“Even though my name goes down as the first Giants [rookie] running back to do it, you don’t do that by yourself,” Barkley said. “You’ve got to give credit to the offensive line all year.”
Interestingly enough, Barkley’s brilliant game was sparked by a rare mistake. He was so upset about dropping a pass during the Giants' second possession that he apologized to the entire offense.
“I went to the line, the quarterback and the wide receivers and said that series is on me,” Barkley said. “I’m going to make up for it. I promise you guys.”
He more than made up for it.
For one man sitting in the press box looking down at the action, Barkley’s performance was especially gratifying. General manager Dave Gettleman, who passed up the chance to get a quarterback and instead took Barkley with the second overall pick in the 2018 draft, was partially blocked from view on Barkley’s touchdown run, as Newsday reporter Tom Rock’s head briefly got in the way. But Gettleman managed to see the final result and cracked a well-earned smile.
A few minutes later, he turned to a fellow Giants executive and simply said, “Am I glad we took that kid.”
Saquon Barkley has four consecutive 100-yard rushing games and six overall in his rookie season, two away from Tiki Barber's franchise mark of eight in 2005. Barkley's triple-digit games:
Week Opp. Carries Yards Avg.
1 Jaguars 18 106 5.9
6 Eagles 13 130 10.0
11 Bucs 27 142 5.3
12 Eagles 13 101 7.8
13 Bears 24 125 5.2
14 Redskins 14 170 12.1