It was bound to occur.
"I’ve been playing for a long time, all of us have been playing since we were kids, and injuries happen in football," Giants safety Logan Ryan said this week. "Every single year I’ve played, a really good player on my team has gotten hurt."
This year, it’s Saquon Barkley.
The running back will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL suffered in last week’s loss to the Bears. It’s a devastating injury for him and for the team that was relying on his abilities as their best player.
But there are 14 games remaining on the Giants’ regular-season schedule, beginning with Sunday’s home tilt against the 49ers. Fourteen times they will have to take the field without Barkley.
Welcome to the Giants’ season, post-Saquon.
How they manage to pull things together – and whether or not they actually can – will be the new theme for the rest of the year. This is a team that spent the first game and a half trying to figure out how to get Barkley going. Now they’ll spend the next three months trying to figure out how to get going without him.
The answer is unlikely to come from any one particular person.
"Everyone has to do more to replace Saquon Barkley," Ryan said. "There’s not a backup we can put in that can just replicate that production. But the offensive line, the quarterback, the receivers, the running backs, myself, I need to make more plays on defense to mitigate the Saquon Barkley loss."
The coaches, too. They spent the offseason designing and installing an offense that revolved around 26. Now they have to adapt that playbook.
"We believe we have a system that allows us to do that," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. "Obviously, Saquon is a great, great football player and a really impactful player both in the run game and the passing game throughout his career. He was going to be a big part of what we wanted to do this year. Now we have to adjust."
That likely means a running back committee rather than a one-man band. They signed Devonta Freeman this week and plan to use him along with Dion Lewis and Wayne Gallman. In some ways, that division of labor is more in line with the philosophies Joe Judge brought here from New England.
"Within every specific game plan we’re going to always look to use all of the players we have at the game and make sure we have enough combinations to go ahead and create advantages for ourselves," Judge said.
It certainly means, too, that Daniel Jones will have to become even more of the focal point of the offense . . . even if no one wants to actually say so.
"We have a lot of guys who can make plays," Jones said. "It’s about everyone doing what they have to do to execute as an offense. That’s the way we are going to be most effective . . . It’s not one guy or two guys, it’s the group stepping up and I’m confident we’ll be able to do that."
The initial test of this rejiggered team comes, coincidentally, against an opponent that has suffered its share of identity-shifting and spirit-draining injuries so far this season as well. The Niners will be without their two of their top pass rushers, both of their top running backs, and their starting quarterback for this game. If all of the sidelined talent from both squads in this game came together to form one team, it might be a Super Bowl contender itself.
Of course, that’s what the 49ers were coming into this season. The Giants? Far less so. They are a team still looking for their first win of the season, just as they almost always seem to be doing in Week 3. This is the fourth year in a row the Giants are starting 0-2. There are established veterans on the roster – Dalvin Tomlinson, Evan Engram among them – who have never not been 0-2 in their careers.
But there are also new players who have rarely been there.
"I don’t know if I’ve been 0-2 before, but I was 2-4 last year and was in the AFC Championship [with the Titans]," Ryan said. "If you have a strong locker room, if you have strong leaders, if you have guys that love to play ball and love to practice hard, you can dig yourself out of some holes here. Being 0-2 is horrible, but I think we’re a game out of the division here. It’s not like our division is world-beaters at the moment. We’re a game out from being a division leader. It’s football. You have to keep playing the games. You have to get over the tough losses."
In the NFL, whether you are talking about games or injuries, those tough losses are inevitable.
It’s how a team responds to both that separates the good ones from the bad.