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Saquon Barkley getting stronger, feeling much healthier

Saquon Barkley of the Giants carries the ball

Saquon Barkley of the Giants carries the ball during the second half against the Redskins at FedExField on Sunday in Landover, Md. Credit: Getty Images/Scott Taetsch

LANDOVER, Md. — The stats were terrific, befitting Saquon Barkley’s status as one of the NFL’s elite running backs.

He rushed for a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. There were four catches for 90 yards and another score.

But the one stat that was most important of all to the Giants’ second-year running back?

“The only thing that matters is the win,” Barkley said after the Giants’ 41-35 overtime victory over the Redskins at FedEx Field on Sunday.

This was Barkley at his best, breaking off a 67-yard touchdown run in the first quarter after sprinting through a hole on the right side, taking a screen pass 51 yards in the third quarter to set up one of Daniel Jones’ five touchdown passes and catching a 33-yard touchdown pass on a busted coverage in the second quarter.

“Had a great game, a great game plan, coaches called it up great,” Barkley said. “[Jones] put us in the right positions, O-line blocked perfectly, tight ends and wide receivers blocked perfectly.”

Barkley has had a difficult year, in part because of a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 3. But now he’s running with the kind of authority that defined a spectacular rookie season, when he rushed for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns. Barkley could make it two straight 1,000-yard seasons, in part because of his stellar game against the Redskins. He needs 89 yards in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Eagles to get to 1,000.

Physically, he’s feeling much better since recovering from the ankle injury.

“I’m getting a lot healthier,” he said. “As the season continues to go along, I’m getting stronger and stronger, not only on the field but in the weight room. Same thing as last year. That’s what you want when we do become a playoff team. That’s how we want it to be. Unfortunately, we will not be [in the playoffs], but we got the one game [against Philadelphia], and we’ll try to finish off strong.”

This was the kind of performance that Barkley seemed to turn in regularly last year. But after the ankle injury, which caused him to miss three games, he didn’t have the same kind of explosiveness, simply because he couldn’t push off his right foot the way he had previously. He never complained about the injury or its effects, but once he started feeling better in recent weeks, he acknowledged that he simply couldn’t play the way he wanted until his recovery was further along.

“I felt good since the bye week,” he said. “Go back and look at the game against Philly [a 23-17 overtime loss]. We’re not breaking the long runs, I’m getting five yards [a carry], then we went away from the run and unfortunately, we lost the game. The last two weeks, we were able to stay with the run.”

Did this one feel like 2018 all over again?

“I felt like that,” he said. “It starts up front [with the offensive line]. They did a good job of stopping penetration, re-establishing the line of scrimmage. My job is to make that one guy miss. Sometimes they’re going to make a play, but I believe that, with the ability that I have, more times than not, I’m going to make that guy miss.”

He made enough guys miss on Sunday to turn in a quintessential Barkley performance.

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