Saquon Barkley said that in order for the Giants to compete against and potentially beat the Patriots on Thursday night, they have to “bring our A game.”
The problem is that they may not be bringing their A team.
An offense that was supposed to rely on Barkley, tight end Evan Engram, and wide receivers Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate to spread the ball around the field may limp into Foxborough with just one of those weapons available. Shepard is dealing with a concussion and won’t play, and while no decision has been made formally on Barkley and Engram, their availability seems dicey at best.
Barkley already has missed two games with a high ankle sprain while Engram is dealing with a left knee injury. ESPN reported on Tuesday that he has an MCL sprain. Those two players were limited in a half-speed practice on Tuesday, but with such a tight turnaround before the next game — and 10 days of potential rest until the game after it — the Giants may wind up sitting them.
On Monday afternoon, Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised the Giants’ offensive weapons, including “a great tight end,” “probably the best running back in the league,” and a “very good receiving group.” That might as well have been a hex rather than a compliment. By Tuesday afternoon there was a strong chance he would have to face none of them.
Barkley said he expects to “get on the bus” for the trip to New England on Wednesday, which indicates he could be a game-time decision. Players who are ruled out generally do not travel with the Giants to road games.
However, while most of the players in Tuesday’s locker room already had their bags packed for the trip, with their shoulder pads and game jerseys wrapped in plastic for transit, there were four noticeable players who did not have such visible luggage ready to be loaded: Shepard and running back Wayne Gallman, both in the concussion protocol, along with Barkley and Engram.
The Giants will release a final injury report with game statuses on all players on Wednesday before they depart.
Giants coach Pat Shurmur was in no mood to discuss the injuries on Tuesday. Regarding speculation that Barkley and Engram would not play, he said: “You didn’t hear that from me. What’s accurate is the two guys who did not participate today to any degree are the two guys who are listed with concussions.”
Facing the league’s most dominant defense without a core of offensive playmakers would be a challenge for any quarterback, nevermind a rookie making his fourth NFL start.
“We’re going to play with the guys we have,” Shurmur said. “We expect Daniel [Jones] to go out and execute and we’re going to try to call the game so that he has the best chance to do so.”
The Giants may be depleted of stars, but they will still have 11 players on the field with the offense.
“We’ve got plenty of weapons,” said rookie wide receiver Darius Slayton, whol likely will see his role expanded, countering the prevailing narrative. “We have guys who can make plays, for sure. Guys who have made plays . . . People are doubting you, people aren’t expecting you to do anything, we definitely want to go out there and prove that we’re still a competitive team, we’re still a good team, in spite of who is out and who is in.”
It would be easier if the big names were in.
Barkley said he feels good but would understand if the Giants wanted to hold him out for this game in order to have him back as close to full strength for the Week 7 game against the Cardinals . . . and perhaps most importantly beyond it.
The full-strength Giants still would have a very small chance to beat the mighty Patriots. It could be wise to give players who the Giants need in the second half of the season in more winnable games as much time to recover as possible.
“That’s the thing that we want for the team, I guess,” Barkley said of his long-term availability. “I’ll continue to be open-minded. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned to do is not come in and be closed-minded and be ignorant to the facts of the situation. Just trust the team and trust the process, trust myself and trust God.
“If that’s the decision they make I would be all for it and I’ll be there no matter what.”