Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants during the fourth...

Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants during the fourth quarter against the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on September 17, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona.  Credit: Getty Images/Norm Hall

TEMPE, Ariz. — Even if the Giants were completely healthy, the 49ers would present a formidable opponent on Thursday night.

But they are not completely healthy.

The Giants will be without Saquon Barkley, who sprained his right ankle Sunday at the end of the Giants’ 31-28 comeback win over the Cardinals.  

The news was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who said Barkley is expected to miss three games.

Barkley essentially bet on himself in signing a one-year deal and reporting on time for training camp.

Now this.

In talking with the media Monday in Tempe, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones characterized the magnitude of the loss.  

“I think obviously we’ll miss him,” he said. “He’s a huge part of what we’re doing. Guys are going to have to step up, and it won’t be any one guy. It’ll be everyone elevating their play and stepping up. I’m confident guys can do that. We’ve got a lot of guys who can step in and do different things.”

Backup running back Matt Breida will assume the running back duties, or at least most of them. He is a seven-year veteran and played for Buffalo when Giants coach Brian Daboll was offensive coordinator there. Breida, who spent his first three seasons in the league with the 49ers, signed with the Giants last season.

“Whatever it is, we’ll have a plan ready to go,” Daboll said. “We’ll have the other guys ready to go.”

Jones said he has talked with Barkley since the diagnosis.

“I think he’s doing all right,” he said. “I’m sure he’s obviously disappointed and I feel for him on that. He’s going to work hard to get back.”

Tight end Darren Waller  said he had a brief conversation with Barkley, telling him that “everyone is supporting him” and, of course, will be happy to welcome him back when that day comes.

After the win over the Cardinals, Barkley posted on social media: "Love this team! Way to fight!!!”

Against the Cardinals, the Giants  found a nice balance among playmakers in the second half, with Barkley,  Waller and their wide receiver corps. Jones passed for 259 of his 321 yards after halftime as the Giants gained 358 of their 439  yards and recorded 21 of their 26 first downs in the second half.

This season, the Giants do have reinforcements. Unlike last  year, and going back several seasons, they have depth among their offensive playmakers,  particularly at receiver. Waller is a big part of the offense. Receivers Darius Slayton and Isaiah Hodgins help to lead a deep receiver corps, and in rookie Jalin Hyatt, the Giants may have a star in the making.

Asked if the onus now will be on the passing game to carry the offense, Waller said he  believes it still should be a balanced attack.

“My job is the same, to execute and get the playmakers the ball in space and let them do their thing,” Jones said. “I don’t think it changes my mindset or how I execute the offense. My job doesn’t change.”  

Finding balance with the ground game may be more of a question now.

In his seven-year career, Breida has played in 83 career games with 20 starts for the 49ers, Dolphins, Bills and Giants. 

Breida has quite the opportunity ahead of him.  It was one thing to be  Barkley’s understudy. Beginning Thursday, he could be in a leading role.

The Niners are among the best teams in the NFC and already have two impressive victories to start the season: 30-7 over the Steelers and 30-23 over the Rams. Both games were on the road.

The Giants are staying in Arizona until Wednesday before traveling to Santa Clara, California,  

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