Saquon Barkley set off on his first run of the game, bursting through the middle of the Dallas defense, spinning out of a tackle and cutting to the left sideline. He ended up traveling 26 yards in the direction of more milestones during the final chapter of his sensational debut season.
The Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott entered the day with a 236-yard lead over the Giants’ rookie running back in yards rushing. Elliott was inactive Sunday at MetLife Stadium but Barkley couldn’t run him down for the rushing title, finishing as the runner-up, 127 yards back, after gaining 109 on 17 carries.
He still emerged at the other side of the Giants’ 36-35 loss with some historic accomplishments.
Barkley needed two catches to break Reggie Bush’s 2006 NFL record of 88 receptions by a rookie running back, and he finished with four for 33 yards. He also broke a Giants rookie record when he took off at the 3-yard line and launched himself high in the air toward the goal line with the ball in one hand for a 2-yard score in the fourth quarter. With his 11th rushing touchdown, the former Penn State great flew past Bill Paschal, who had held the record for 75 years.
But the most impressive milestone came in the form of the No. 2,000. Barkley’s 142 total yards, including a 68-yard run, gave him 2,028 from scrimmage, making him only the third rookie in NFL history to reach 2,000.
His company? Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson (2,212 for the 1983 Rams) and Edgerrin James (2,139 for the 1999 Colts).
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Barkley said. “Two thousand yards, to be mentioned in the same [way] as Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James, it’s definitely an honor and privilege. But you don’t do that by yourself. To be honest, you have to give credit to your teammates and coaching staff.”
His line took pride, too. “I think that’s hard to do in the National Football League,” guard Jamon Brown said. “For a young guy like him to be able to do that his first year out, you’ve got to applaud him. I’m excited to see how good he can really be.”
The team finished 5-11, but Barkley lived up to his press clippings. The second overall pick in the draft led the Giants in rushing (1,307 yards) and receptions (91, tying Odell Beckham Jr.’s franchise rookie record). Barkley also set franchise rookie records for rushing, 100-yard rushing games (seven), games with 100 yards from scrimmage (13, which also tied Dickerson’s NFL record) and overall TDs (15).
“He was a big difference-maker for us this year, a special talent, special leader, special kid,” tight end Evan Engram said. “He’s going to be probably one of the greatest ever.”
Barkley thanked Eli Manning at practice this past week for all he taught him. Like Manning, Barkley stayed grounded. Now he’s determined to make an even greater sequel.
“Me, I overthink a lot of things,” Barkley said. “I’m probably going to overthink everything and go back and watch film . . . See what I can continue to do to get better.”