Saquon Barkley #26 of the Giants rushes the ball against the...

Saquon Barkley #26 of the Giants rushes the ball against the Green Bay Packers at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Dec 11, 2023. Credit: Mike Stobe

Often during media availability in the Giants locker room, you can find Saquon Barkley and Kayvon Thibodeaux sitting on couches, playing chess.

It is there that the game is entirely mental, a battle of wits and of strategy.

Barkley has indicated that he loses those battles more often than he wins.

“He’s really good,” Barkley said of Thibodeaux. “He’s been playing a lot longer than me, so the record favors him a little more right now, but I told him when I first started, give me a couple months and I’ll start winning some games.”

Not often, but occasionally, it becomes clear to everyone in the locker room who has won on the chess board. It can get animated. Barkley has narrowed the gap recently.

“It’s been a lot more competitive,” Barkley said. “He still gets the best of me a little bit, but he’s smart, he’s a smart kid and obviously if you have any conversations with him and the way he holds himself and exactly how he is, he carries himself exactly how he plays chess. I’ve just got to – I’ve been working a little extra harder on my chess.com app so I can get better to beat him.”

The chess wins and losses have been easier on Barkley recently, especially compared to the football wins and losses.

For the Giants on the football field, it is already time for a “maybe next year” mantra.

For Barkley, in his sixth season, there is disappointment, to say the least.

He will turn 27 in February. He has said he would like to be a Giant “for life.”

He also knows the wear and tear his body has absorbed over the years could be, essentially, held against him when he pursues his next contract. Barkley signed for the 2023 season on a one-year deal.

Underestimating Barkley’s impact on the Giants would be a mistake.

He is, in many ways, a team spokesman, and his talent almost always gives the Giants an edge on game days. On Sunday against the Saints, when a win would have kept the Giants slim playoff chances alive, the Giants played one of their worst games of the season.

“It’s part of the league," Barkley said. "You try your best to stay away from it, but sometimes games like that are going to happen. We got to do a better job, collectively, of putting ourselves in better positions to make plays and when the plays come, making those plays when things are going bad. And we didn’t do it. If you look at a lot of our games this year, the games we lost and the games that got out of hand, we never stopped the bleeding. It’s been a common theme in the games that have been bad for us this year. We got to find a way to get better in those situations.”

That is the bigger concern for these Giants.

How do they find those answers?

Guard Ben Bredeson lamented the line’s inability to handle pre-snap reads against the Saints, who sacked Tommy DeVito seven times.

“Yeah, there was some of that,” Bredeson said. “It’s part of the job, and you’ve got to block guys, and they’re allowed to move so we just have to work in tandem and work as unit and handle the movement. And (block) and get Saquon through there.”

That is Barkley’s goal, too, of course.

This offseason, the Giants will have difficult decisions to make. Keeping Barkley should be at the top of that list.

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