INDIANAPOLIS — Saquon Barkley said he hasn’t experienced the proverbial “rookie wall” many first-year players encounter late in the season. But for Barkley, the last two weeks have felt like running into a wall.
After a four-game streak in which he rushed for a combined 538 yards and four touchdowns and averaged 6.9 yards per attempt, Barkley has been held to 73 yards and one touchdown on 35 rushes (2.1 yards per carry) in the past two games.
With opponents clearly looking to take Barkley out of the offense as much as possible, the rookie sensation has paid the price with some of his toughest games yet.
“You notice a difference [in how teams defend him], but I wouldn’t say it’s the last two weeks,” Barkley said after a 28-27 loss to the Colts in which he gained 43 yards on 21 carries and scored a first-quarter touchdown. “I’ve been running the ball, going back to [after] the bye week, and teams were still focusing on the run and we were able to execute and get big runs. At the end of the day, you give credit where credit is due.”
After the Colts narrowed their deficit to 24-21, Barkley had a particularly difficult series in the fourth quarter. After rushing up the middle for a 6-yard gain to the Colts’ 19, he stumbled on a run to his right and lost 4 yards. He took himself out of the game briefly, although he said he wasn’t injured.
“I know people think I’m Superman, but I’ve got to come out and get a breath sometimes,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was hurt or anything. Just get out of there, get a play or two, get a break.”
He returned after two plays but was stuffed for a 2-yard loss on second-and-goal from the Colts’ 7. After Eli Manning threw an incomplete pass on third down, the Giants settled for a field goal to take a 27-21 lead.
Quarterback Andrew Luck eventually drove the Colts for the game-winning score with 55 seconds left in regulation.
“When we make the [play] calls, we’ve got to execute, we’ve got to pick up the blocking, and I’ve got to make the right reads as a running back,” Barkley said. “That’s how the running game works. The last two weeks, we weren’t able to do that. When I say we as a running game — myself and the offensive line included — we’ve got to be better.”
Barkley expressed frustration after the game, but his resolve hasn’t been shaken.
“It’s a game I’ve loved since I was a kid. This is my dream, playing in the NFL, and I’m living my dream,” said Barkley, who has 1,198 rushing yards this season.
“Can’t complain. This game obviously hurts. Every loss hurts. But when you come down to the wire and don’t find a way to finish, it definitely hurts a little more. Give credit to the Colts. They played a great game.”