The handoff went to Saquon Barkley on the day’s first play from scrimmage Sunday at MetLife Stadium, and he took the ball for a ride.
It was an unremarkable ride, just a 5-yard gain. But so much rehab went into getting to take that handoff and play on this day for the Giants that it was all very meaningful to him.
The running back was back nearly a year after his right ACL ripped.
Barkley didn’t do much damage against Denver in Week 1. He said he didn’t play his usual number of snaps. There wasn’t a lot of room to run, either. And the Giants fell behind, necessitating more throwing. He ended up with just 11 touches, not counting a drop, in their 27-13 setback.
"Obviously, we lost, so that’s upsetting," Barkley said. "But it was a blessing to be able to go back out there and play the sport I love."
It was a step. His final totals? Just 10 carries, just 26 yards. Just one reception, just 1 yard.
The 5-yard run turned out to be his longest gain. But he got hit on the knee along the way. He said he felt nothing that alarmed him.
"I felt pretty good," Barkley said. "I knocked some rust off."
Joe Judge said the run blockers need to do "a better job." But the head coach gave credit to the Broncos, too.
"They did a good job matching up and limiting some things," Judge said. "We have to execute better as an entire team. But in terms of a step forward for him in the first time on the field since last year, I was pleased with what I saw."
It was last Sept. 20 when Barkley took the ball on a 6-yard run in Chicago. He got tackled by Eddie Jackson and his season was over, just like that, in Week 2.
On Oct. 30, he underwent reconstructive surgery.
And on Sept. 12, he returned.
Barkley entered as the second overall pick in the 2018 draft and lived up to the billing. He ran for a Giants rookie-record 1,307 and caught an NFL rookie-record 91 passes. That brought NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and a Pro Bowl ticket.
His second season came with pain. He ran for 1,003 yards, but he was plagued by a high ankle sprain.
And his third season came with pain and heartache.
Barkley said he felt nervous earlier in the week over the prospect of his return.
"It wasn’t like scared nerves," he said. "Just more anxious."
But the anxiety went away in time for the game.
"Coming off an injury like that, a lot of the stuff is mental, and I didn’t sense he had any mental stuff going on," Sterling Shepard said. "I felt like he hit the hole hard. He took some hits, and that’s what I wanted to see. He was able to bounce back up and keep on pushing. He’ll gradually keep getting better and better."