Dion Lewis summed up the magnitude of Sunday’s devastating loss about as succinctly as possible.
It had nothing to do with the 17-13 final score in which the Giants came up short against the Bears at Soldier Field, either.
"I mean, he’s Saquon Barkley," the veteran running back said.
Now the question becomes whether he ever will be again.
Barkley, the two-time captain and centerpiece of the Giants’ offense, suffered what team sources fear to be a torn ACL in his right knee on the first play of the second quarter. He had X-rays taken at Soldier Field and planned to have further evaluations done in New York on Monday to determine the extent of what seemed, in a best-case scenario, to be a significant injury that will sideline him for the immediate future.
The worst-case scenario?
That the juking and jumping playmaker who had back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his first two years with the Giants may never again seem as spry or flash his surreal talents as regularly as he has thus far into his career. That the Giants’ use of the second overall pick in the 2018 draft will be remembered not for changing the direction of the franchise as they hoped, but the lost potential for Barkley because of this injury along with last year’s high ankle sprain.
"Obviously we’re all praying for the best," coach Joe Judge said. "I would just say this: Regardless of whatever the outcome is going to be and what the doctors say (on Monday), I wouldn’t fall asleep on 26. It’s going to be a hell of a story either way."
It’s not unheard of for a running back to return from a significant knee injury and play at a high level. The best example of that would be Adrian Peterson, who tore his ACL and MCL late in the 2011 season and came back to win the MVP award and gain the second most rushing yards in NFL history in 2012. Postscript: He’s still playing at age 35.
That hardly makes such comebacks commonplace or routine, however, and Barkley wasn’t exactly performing at his peak in the earliest stages of this season to begin with.
Barkley, who was held to six rushing yards on 15 carries in the opener, was finally starting to find some openings in the running game before his injury. Late in the first quarter he sprung an 18-yard dash behind pulling Kevin Zeitler and Nick Gates, but he clutched at his left arm after he was tackled. Lewis came on for a play – a run for no gain – and the quarter ended, giving Barkley time to recover. When the second quarter began he was back in the huddle and he took a handoff to the right side and ran for a gain of 6.
Just before he was tackled, though, he seemed to sense there was something wrong with his right knee. By the time he was brought down in front of the Bears’ bench he was face down, his helmet ripped off, clutching at the joint and wincing in extreme pain.
"Your heart stops for a minute," cornerback James Bradberry said of seeing this unfold from the Giants sideline.
Barkley eventually stood but was unable to put any weight on his leg. He was helped across the field with Judge among those hoisting him up under Barkley’s arms.
"He’s a big dude and I wanted to make sure we could get him over there with the least amount of stress on his leg as possible," Judge said of pitching in as a human ambulance. "You don’t want to carry any player off the field."
After a short spell on the Giants’ bench, Barkley was carted back to the locker room where x-rays were taken and he waited for the game to end. The next time his teammates saw him was in the postgame locker room.
"I just told him to keep his head up, stay positive, believe in God," Lewis said. "He’s a great kid. We’ve grown extremely close since I’ve been here so I definitely feel for him."
"I saw him and said I’m praying for a quick recovery whatever it ends up being," linebacker Blake Martinez said. "Anytime any player gets hurt on your team it’s one of the guys you worked with through training camp, someone you worked with through the first game, all those moments grinding together, it’s definitely a tough moment. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve seen, so to have that moment happen was definitely tough."
It will be tough for the Giants, too, with 14 games remaining on the schedule. Their season, which is already teetering on disappointment after opening with two straight losses, now must continue without the team’s most dynamic player.
Where do the Giants go from here?
"We go back to work," Judge said. "That’s where we go. We go back to work on Wednesday . . . Our vision has to be forward."
Probably without Barkley, though.