Ladies and gentlemen, meet Saquon Barkley.
The Giants' rookie running back delivered one of the great opening notes to an NFL career Thursday night when he took a handoff on the first snap of the preseason and dashed 39 yards for an electrifying run. It demonstrated just about everything the Giants thought they were getting when they used the second overall pick to select Barkley back in the spring: poise, instinct, quickness, speed. That it was longer than all but two of the runs the Giants had throughout the entire 2017 season made it all the more exciting to see. Few players step onto the stage and deliver as quickly as Barkley did against the Browns.
But while the play created a stir among fans who got their first real glimpse of Barkley in a Giants jersey with an NY on his helmet, his teammates did not buy into the hype because of that play.
That’s because they’d already bought in.
“I don’t think anyone is surprised,” Giants backup linebacker Mark Herzlich said of the sensation on the sideline when Barkley took that handoff, came to a halt behind right tackle Ereck Flowers, hopped to his right to find a crease in the defense behind tight end Evan Engram, burst through it, then beat safety Denzel Ward to the boundary.
“We didn’t see anything different and go ‘Oh my gosh!’ He’s the real deal and we know he’s the real deal. He’s just showing everybody else now.”
Even on the field the reaction to Barkley’s run was subdued.
“For the guys in the huddle, we had to get down the field and get ready for the next play,” guard Patrick Ohmameh said. “We were happy for the kid, but I don’t think anybody who’s been practicing with him this training camp was surprised. He’s a gifted football player.”
“A nice run to get things started,” Eli Manning said. “Hopefully, more to come.”
The problem for the Giants was that there wasn’t. At least not last night. Despite the exciting start, the Giants had little else to celebrate in the 20-10 loss to the Browns.
Barkley’s 39 yards on the opening run were more than the 23 that the Giants’ starters gained on their 15 other snaps (plus 30 yards thanks to two Browns penalties that saved the Giants from a pair of third-down failures). Barkley had four more carries and managed 4 total yards on them. The Giants' starters scored just a field goal on their two possessions and punctuated their night allowing an ugly sack of Manning with pressure up the middle.
“I think you can see a lot of things we need to improve on,” said Manning (4-for-7, 26 yards).
The starting defense, meanwhile, allowed a brisk Browns touchdown drive on their second possession as Tyrod Taylor hit Rashard Higgins for a gain of 21 yards against cornerback Eli Apple and then found tight end David Njoku behind linebacker Alec Ogletree for a 36-yard touchdown that made it 7-3 with 2:55 left in the first quarter. First overall pick Baker Mayfield hit Njoku for a 10-yard touchdown in the second quarter to make it 13-3, a score that stuck around until halftime.
The game, though, will most be remembered in New York for that one play that started it all (Cleveland fans are more likely to remember it for Mayfield’s impressive debut). Coming off a miserable season and an offseason that saw nearly every facet of the organization overhauled and rebuilt, the Barkley run gave Giants fans something to be excited about for the first time in a long time… even if, again, the Giants themselves are downplaying that.
“It’s just a run,” Manning said. “Let’s not go berserk yet.”
Notes & quotes: WR Odell Beckham Jr. warmed up with the team and was in uniform throughout the game but did not play… Backup QB Davis Webb was an unimpressive 9-for-22 for 70 yards in his first game action since last preseason. Rookie QB Kyle Lauletta was 7-for-12 for 55 yards.