“I knew right away. The first run and the first couple of times I tackled him, I said, ‘this kid has something,’ ” All-Pro defensive end Calais Campbell said after the game.
Campbell made sure after the game that he found Barkley and swapped jerseys with the rookie.
“Coming into the NFL against a team like ours, and making some of the plays he made, that kid’s going to be special,” Campbell said. “I traded jerseys with him after the game because I was like, ‘Okay, if he can stay healthy, he might one day be a Hall of Famer. So now, I’ll get his jersey when he’s young.’ ”
You get the feeling that Sunday was an example of how Barkley’s NFL career could go, provided he stays healthy. Because it’s how his career at Penn State. Ho-hum, mundane, ordinary, nothing special and then all of a sudden ... EXTRAORDINARY!!
He had 8 carries for 12 yards in the first half Sunday. His longest third-quarter run was 8 yards. The game appeared to be over, just another mundane, nothing to see here, loss for the Giants after Myles Jack took a tipped pass to the house to give Jacksonsville a 20-9 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Then ... BAM!!! Then Barkley the Giants believed they drafted, the one GM Dave Gettleman said got only the second perfect scouting grade he’s ever handed out, the one who was a human highlight reel at Penn State, happened.
Just a little handoff up the middle, and the tiniest amount of room to manuever. All of a sudden, two Jaguars, maybe three, had flailed and missed at the line of scrimmage. A good enough block from Evan Engram and Barkley was in the open field and headed for the right sideline.
A block from Sterling Shepard and he got the corner. One more Jacksonville defender tried to bring him down and came up with just air. Barkley tiptoed the sideline, stayed in bounds and went 68 yards for the dazzling score.
Saquon Barkley 68 yards to the HOUSE. pic.twitter.com/NuY3s7MJ0H— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) September 9, 2018
The Giants had a chance again. They had indeed found a star running back who could do things only few can. MetLife was alive. The Giants didn’t complete the comeback, but everyone now knows what Barkley can do.
“We knew he was a really good player coming in,” said Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone. “It’s one of those games where you feel like you’re doing a good job, you got a lot of population to the football, you got a lot of people trying to bring him down. Then all of a sudden, bam! He breaks that, whatever it was, 68-yard run. Outside of that, I thought we did a pretty good job against him. We were really focusing on him, knowing that he’s a heck of a player.
Barkley finished with 106 yards on 18 carries, 5.9 per attempt. He became the first Giants rookie to gain at least 100 yards rushing in his NFL debut. His run was the longest by a Giants rookie since Ahmad Bradshaw went 88 yards vs. the Buffalo Bills in 2007.
Barkley, though, wished he had been a little bit better.
There was a fourth-and-2 carry in the third quarter with the Giants trailing 13-9 where he came up just short.
“Fourth-and-one is always tough to get, especially when you have a defense like that. Fourth-and-one mentality is you have to get it no matter what by any-means-necessary,” Barkley said. “I jumped and I thought I had it, I thought I did enough to keep the sticks moving, but I didn’t and that is something where there’s no excuses that I’m a young player, and I have to realize how important that is.”
There was the two-point conversion after his 68-yard run where he was stopped short.
There was a fourth-quarter pass from Eli Manning on third-and-5 where he got 4 yards. Well, really about 4 3⁄4 yards, but couldn’t get the last little bit needed for the first down.
“My realistic expectation was that I expected to win. Every game you come into, you expect to win by any means,” Barkley said. “It didn’t matter if I had 100 in the air or 100 on the ground, or if I had 20 rushing yards; I’m not really a stats guy, I don’t really care about stats. I want to get the win and that was my expectation, but sometimes you fall short on your expectations and it means you have to continue to work and we have to go back to the drawing board and go back to practice and get treatment, recover and get our bodies right and continue to get better.”
The Giants didn’t win, of course. As I wrote in “Kudos & Wet Willies,” in the standings this amounts to a loss in a game that was winnable, it amounts to a missed opportunity to upset a really good team and get the season off to an exciting start.
Barkley’s single run, though, showed the promise of a future that should be a lot of fun to watch.