Giants Saquon Barkley knows playoffs will be key to ‘legacy’
Daniel Jones is ascending toward legit stardom, and the Giants are an emerging threat with receivers who missed the memo that they are not supposed to be making plays in NFL games, never mind postseason games.
Jones has the arm and the legs (and the weapons?) to scare just about anyone now. But the top-seeded Eagles aren’t the Vikings. They haven’t lost at home to the Giants since the Eisenhower Administration, making it hard to picture a scenario in which Jones dominates as a solo act on the road to the NFC Championship game.
So for Saquon Barkley, the terms of engagement for the duel Saturday night at the Linc are as clear as his stated goal to become an all-time great running back. If the Giants are to score the upset win, Barkley can’t be anything like the player he was in the blowout loss to the Eagles last month, when he rushed nine times for 28 yards.
Cue up Dave Gettleman’s greatest hits and embrace the obvious. This needs to be Barkley’s No. 2-overall-pick game. This needs to be Barkley’s “touched by the hand of God” game. This needs to be his “my mother could have scouted him” game. This needs to be his “gold jacket” game.
“You want to create a legacy,” Barkley said Wednesday. “Look at all the Giants greats. They all did it in the postseason. Yeah, that’s extra motivation.”
The Giants could use some extra motivation in their attempt to topple a 14-win team in the ultimate hostile environment. Barkley brought up the last trip to the Linc, and the sight of a young Eagles fan waiting near the tunnel for the visiting team to take the field. The running back figured the fan was about to give the Giants the middle finger, and instead the kid shot them a thumbs down.
“I said, ‘OK, we’re going in the right direction,’ ” Barkley recalled. But he knew it was a temporary moment of grace, nothing more.
“Their fan base is crazy,” Barkley said.
“There might be some double birds. That’s Philly, you know?”
We know. When it comes to fan hostility, Philadelphia makes your average New York ballgame feel like a church social. It’s hard to win in the City of Brotherly Loathe even when the home teams aren’t very good.
And the home team Saturday night is really, really good, meaning the Giants’ franchise players have to carry the franchise through.
Jones put on a record-setting performance against the Vikings in his playoff debut, and now a quarterback largely panned over his first three seasons could actually land a new deal of close to $40 million a year. It’s good work if you can get it.
Meanwhile, Barkley’s more vulnerable position — running back — doesn’t put him in the same salary-cap neighborhood. He won’t be getting a nine-figure deal, not after he turned down a bye-week offer from the Giants believed to be in the $12 million-12.5 million range for three or four years. Like Jones, Barkley can make himself some money with a victory over the Eagles. And like Jones, that’s not his chief motivation for wanting desperately to advance to the NFC title game.
“This is the stuff that you dream about as a kid,” Barkley said.
Nobody in the Giants’ locker room has studied the NFL’s iconic figures and their statistics more than Barkley has. Going back to his Pennsylvania schoolboy days at Whitehall High, Barkley would repeatedly ask friends such as Whitehall athletics director Bob Hartman about the school’s legends and how he could join them. At Penn State, Barkley remembered, “I kind of said something very arrogant to the running backs, but I knew [what] all the records were at Penn State.”
Barkley told them he would break all those records.
He later told friends he wasn’t afraid to be drafted by the Browns No. 1 overall in 2018, and to shoulder the same burden LeBron James shouldered in trying to end a Cleveland franchise’s title drought. Barkley wasn’t afraid of the New York market either, something that became more evident last summer, when he said he was tired of critics trying to write him off.
“F–k everybody,” Barkley said on the “2ndWind” podcast. “I’m ready to go crazy.”
Five months later, the Giants need their running back to go crazy as he never has before. Barkley has to be better than his Penn State protégé, Miles Sanders, in this game.
Barkley did deliver against the Vikings, finishing with two touchdowns and 109 rushing and receiving yards. But that was B-plus Barkley in support of an A-plus Jones, who ran the ball nearly twice as many times as his running back did. Given the Eagles’ 70 sacks and top-ranked pass defense, and given their middling 16th-ranked run defense, Barkley must have the higher grade in Round 2.
He plans on making a bunch of Eagles miss in the open field, because that’s what he does best. “You’ve got to play above the X’s and O’s,” Barkley said.
He has to play to his otherworldly ability. Saturday night is the perfect time for Saquon Barkley to start building his long-term case as an all-time great.
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