NASHVILLE — Saquon Barkley thought he would be the exception.
When he tore his ACL in 2020 and worked his way back onto the field in 2021, he kept hearing the adage that players generally need two years to fully recover from that type of injury.
“I’m not listening to all that,” he said of his attitude last year. “Especially when you see a guy like Adrian Peterson come back and blow it up after his ACL. So you are using a mindset and you’re just like, ‘I don't care. I want to be different. I'm going to be different. That doesn't affect me.’ ”
He was wrong.
“But I’m human,” he said.
Quite an admission on a day when he looked anything but.
Barkley had one of the best games of his career with 164 rushing yards and another 30 receiving, not to mention a touchdown run and the go-ahead two-point conversion catch on an underhand flip from Daniel Jones.
No, he didn’t look like the Saquon Barkley who tore up the league and was named Rookie of the Year in 2018.
He looked better.
More polished. More physical. More determined.
For the rest of the league, most likely, more scary.
That he did it in a game that featured a running back in the Titans' Derrick “King” Henry whom most believed to be the best in the league, well, let’s just say it sure seems as if England isn’t the only place where a new sovereign took over this week. (Through 15 Week 1 games, Barkley leads the NFL in rushing. Jonathan Taylor of the Colts is second with 161 on 31 carries.)
Barkley pooh-poohed that idea.
“It’s just one game, to be honest,” he said. “That’s how I look at it. Obviously, at the end of the day, I’m excited to get the win. Personally, just got to keep coming in. Something that just keeps tickling me that Coach Daboll says is ‘Just enjoy the process.’ That's something I've been battling in the last few years with rehabbing and injuries.”
Next week he’ll be up against another premier running back in Christian McCaffrey and the Panthers. It will be another chance for Barkley to prove his place in league rankings — and another chance to show that the axiom about the second year back from an ACL injury being the best.
“I learned a lot from the previous year,” Barkley said. “Keep trusting that process made me be able to go out there today and not even think about it. I knew we were going to have a great game and we were going to make some plays. It was just when the timing was right. It wasn't really just a mindset change, it’s going out there and just believing in myself, trusting myself and letting my God-given ability show.”