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Giants' Saquon Barkley has 'no doubt in my mind' about returning to same level after ACL injury

Giants running back Saquon Barkley at MetLife Stadium

Giants running back Saquon Barkley at MetLife Stadium on Nov. 10, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Before Saquon Barkley tore his ACL, he messed up his phone.

On the team’s flight to Chicago for that Week 2 game, the running back said he hit the wrong buttons, agreed to the wrong messages and wound up losing all of his contacts. So in the days after his injury, he received plenty of supportive texts and messages from his athletic peers around the world, but he had no idea who they were.

"A lot of people are probably out there thinking that I didn’t respond or I’m going through a tough time," he said. "Nah. It’s just my phone didn’t work."

One person did manage to get through that technical glitch and make direct contact with Barkley. It was Adrian Peterson, the unofficial patron saint of ACL recoveries, who tore his late in the 2011 season and came back to win the league’s MVP award with 2,097 rushing yards in 2012.

"Obviously when you hear this injury, the first thing that comes to mind is the season that AP had," Barkley said on Thursday in his first news conference since the day he was carted off the field in Chicago. "He put me in contact with his trainer and I was able to ask him a lot of questions, and then the day before my surgery, I got to chat with AP for a very long time and I can see myself continuing to chat with him throughout the line."

That’s not all Barkley can see. Like Peterson, he expects to return to action looking and feeling and playing at a level equal to — or greater than — where he was before this injury.

"No doubt in my mind," he said.

Things already have gone pretty well for Barkley. The damage to his MCL healed on its own and did not require reconstruction. He did not have to have his meniscus replaced as surgeons were able to mend his ("which is a really good thing," Barkley added). And the ACL repair was fairly straightforward. Barring any setbacks, the outside expectation is that he should be physically ready for training camp in 2021.

"The likelihood of me coming back at 100%, what they’re saying is it’s all about how you attack it," Barkley said. "Sometimes they say when you do an ACL reconstruction, your ACL becomes 10 times stronger. I’m just trying to come in with the mindset of getting 1% better every single day."

Barkley had his surgery in Los Angeles and began his rehab there, but he quickly returned to New Jersey and now is a fixture in the Giants’ training room and on the team’s Zoom meetings. "It didn’t feel like home," he said of his West Coast setup.

He said the worst days for him are the ones when the Giants play without him.

"When we win, you still feel that joy even though I’m not on the field, but there is also that [disappointment] sitting on the couch and watching," Barkley said. "You feel helpless. You can’t do anything, you can’t help your team at all. I would say Sundays are the toughest days . . . but the last three weeks, they’ve been pretty good."

Barkley did not have a time frame for his return, nor did he say anything about his contract. He was in line for a big extension this offseason, one that probably won’t come together now.

Barkley dodged a question about whether he will report to the team without a new deal for 2021. "I’m not focused on money right now," he said.

Overall, he seems to be doing well physically and emotionally. The player who once was described as having a "generational spirit" has been able to keep that intact, unlike his ACL or his phone.

"I imagine there will be some more dark places coming up," he said. "Really the darkest time for me was right when it happened. Even though it wasn’t diagnosed [on the field], I had a feeling what happened. That kind of brings you to tears.

"It’s tough in that moment. I know how hard I worked and I know how we worked as a team and what I wanted to help this team do this year, and I knew that was all taken away at that moment.

"But you kind of got to suck it up."

New York Sports