After a week in which it seemed everyone was piling on him, from the most accomplished running back in franchise history to the guy who waits on hold for two hours to air his grievances on sports radio, Saquon Barkley finally had an answer for his critics on Thursday.
"No disrespect to anyone when I say I don’t care," the third-year Giants running back said. "I truly don’t care about other people’s opinions."
He said he knows he stunk it up on Monday night against the Steelers, rushing for just six yards on 15 carries, missing a couple of key blitz pickups in pass protection and dropping an early pass he should have caught.
"It happened," he said. "Guess what? I came to work this week with a smile on my face, ready to work and ready to get better."
Getting Barkley to be better is not a one-man job. While he did have some flaws exposed in Week 1, he was hardly alone in the responsibility for his meager numbers. The offensive line had terrible difficulty opening any holes for him; he was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 11 of his 15 carries and tackled for a loss or no gain on eight of them.
The Steelers made a concerted effort to stop Barkley and succeeded. The Bears play the Giants on Sunday and they will undoubtedly have the same defensive focus. If Joe Judge were facing this Giants team, that’s probably exactly what he would do, too.
Jason Garrett spent the past two seasons trying to stop Barkley as the head coach of the Cowboys. Now he’s the offensive coordinator of the Giants and has to find a way to get him going.
"Even when you’re playing against teams that are really concerned and focused on taking the run away, you have to find ways to do it," Garrett said. "I think if you look at the different runs that we had, there were examples of situations where we got beat. Their guy simply beat our guy. There were examples where we didn’t communicate well together and we weren’t on the same page. Those are things we simply have to clean up going forward. We strive to be a balanced team, to attack different ways. It starts with run and pass, and we have to do a better job running the football."
The most amplified criticism of Barkley came from Tiki Barber, who said on his radio program that he wasn’t sure if Barkley can be an every-down back because of his pass protection. He even seemed to question Barkley’s toughness, saying "he doesn’t want to hit anybody" and calling him "a big back who wants to play small."
Barkley called Barber "a legend" who has done a lot of great things for the Giants.
"I’m not going to look at it as disrespect," Barkley said. "I’m going to look at it as a challenge. But the same thing for him like everyone else, I really don’t care about outside opinions."
Barber, for what it’s worth, agreed with Barkley on that. "At the end of the day, my opinion doesn't matter," he said on his "Tiki & Tierney" radio show Thursday afternoon. "My job as an analyst is to point out what I see and it's what I've seen. It's his coach's job and his job to fix it, and I'm positive that he will. I'm absolutely positive that he will."
While there has been plenty of talk over the years about the wisdom of selecting Barkley with the second overall pick as the Giants did, Barkley’s play largely has escaped the kind of public frustration that seems to have boiled over this week.
"It’s easy to be an All-Pro clicker and watch stuff on film and say ‘he should have done this, he should have done that, he can improve in that,’" Barkley said. "That’s the easy way. In my position, I know how I come to work every single day and I know the belief that my teammates have in me. That’s why every single week I’m going to try to come out and get better. Not for you guys. Not for anyone outside of here. But for the guys in this building."
It’s also why he said he has no extra desire to shut people up with a stellar performance on Sunday.
"It doesn’t matter if you praise me or say negative things about me, I’m not going to use that as motivation because my motivation is to be great myself," he told reporters. "I don’t need you guys to push me that way. I need to focus on myself and try building myself up. So this week there is no extra motivation. There is no this, that or the third. It’s just try to come in and get the W for the Giants."