Saquon Barkley of the Giants wrestles for the ball against Rashaan Evans of...

Saquon Barkley of the Giants wrestles for the ball against Rashaan Evans of the Cowboys during the third quarter at AT&T Stadium on Sunday in Arlington, Texas. Credit: Getty Images/Ron Jenkins

ARLINGTON, Texas

In the early stages of Saquon Barkley’s career, there were plenty of ugly, lopsided games like Sunday’s. There were plenty of dire stretches like the one the Giants are going through in which it felt as if they’d never win again.

It’s why, when asked if this is the most challenging span he can remember since joining the Giants — their 49-17 loss to the Cowboys made the combined score of their two-game series a remarkable 89-17 and left the Giants outscored 79-23 in their last two games — he scoffed.

“It’s definitely tough right now losing like that, getting embarrassed week after week,” he said.

But the lowest point in his six years?

“I’m not going to go out and say that,” he said.

There are a few glaring differences between those forgettable days and these. Back then, the Giants in the locker room hadn’t had success, so they didn’t know what they were missing out on. This time down the drain, they are coming off a season in which they won a playoff game, so they understand the joys and perks that come from winning and exactly what they are missing out on.

This tumble down the mountain also has come with a series of actual physical losses. The team’s top two quarterbacks, Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor, are on injured reserve, leaving undrafted rookie Tommy DeVito to start this game and at least the next one. Even though he signed a four-year deal in the offseason, Jones’ future with the Giants is in question.

But the most glaring thing that’s changed is that Barkley’s wide-eyed eternal optimism seems to have reached its conclusion. Maybe that comes from the sour taste that lingers from his contract negotiations with the team in the offseason or the awareness that there might be a reprise of those talks in the coming months.

More likely, though, it stems from the unbearable weight of losing that is starting to crush every soul in the organization.

That emotion manifested itself on Sunday with a series of unsightly run-ins and flare-ups that were caught by television cameras and reporters, illustrating a team that not only lost badly but is losing its cool and its belief in itself.

“It’s the NFL,” Barkley said. “We shouldn’t be getting beat like this no matter what the situation is and we can’t allow ourselves to make excuses. But that’s the easy thing to say. It’s going to creep in. It’s going to creep into everyone’s mind. It’s creeped into mine.”

Whoa. Even Barkley, long the Pillar of Positivity for the Giants, is having trouble standing up strong to this storm.

Barkley said this isn’t the first time he’s experienced such emotions of doubt, frustration, anger and everything else that gets bundled up into that poison package of feelings that, if it unfurls, can shatter a locker room and crumble an organization.

“We’re human just like y’all,” he said.

The Giants let too much of those human sentiments show on Sunday. Even as they tried to downplay them — “Normal stuff,” Brian Daboll insisted as the list of transgressions was presented to him — they were there, exposed, for all to see and all to analyze.

From an outside perspective, these losses are hideous, but the unraveling is worse.

It got so bad that Darius Slayton, one of the most mild-mannered and level-headed players on the team, snapped. He got into a heated sideline argument with receiver coach Mike Groh. That led to a fellow veteran of the Giants’ recent Dark Ages, Sterling Shepard, pulling Slayton aside to try to calm him down, or, as he said, “motivate” him to keep working despite the forlorn circumstances.

“My emotions got the best of me,” Slayton said. “It’s Week 10 and we haven’t done a lot of winning. I have a deep desire to win. Normally I am calm and collected. It happened to come out of me today. It got away from me today.”

Other gaskets that failed or seem on the verge of bursting included Barkley and Daboll appearing to get into it after Barkley was stuffed on fourth-and-2 from the Dallas 4 after Cor’Dale Flott’s interception gave the offense the ball at the 11. The Giants got zero points from that.

Then there was the discussion between Daboll and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale that Fox sideline reporter Tom Rinaldi noted as heated when the teams left the field for halftime, as well as when they returned. This was a Giants defense that allowed 640 yards on Sunday, the most of any Giants team since 1943.

Not all of the grievances were aired. Defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence and safety Xavier McKinney, two of the captains for the team, declined to speak with reporters after the carnage. For McKinney, who spouted about a disconnect between coaches and leaders after last week’s loss to the Raiders, that may have been a wise strategy.

“We’re all grown men,” offensive lineman Justin Pugh said. “We argue and we move on. No one wants to lose games. Everyone is trying to figure out what to do to right the ship. We got our kicked today and there should be some people when you get embarrassed on national TV. It’s not a good feeling.”

It shows no sign of changing, either. Jones isn’t coming back this season. Taylor might, but not until mid-December at the earliest.

For now, these are the players and coaches who will plod on while trying to salvage some shred of dignity against a season that is attempting to strip it from all of them . . . and, unlike the Giants, winning handily at that endeavor.

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months
ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME