PHILADELPHIA — It was the kind of play we’ve come to anticipate every time Saquon Barkley touches the football; the kind of electrifying blast of power and energy that reinforces how special he is. The Giants running back took a handoff from Eli Manning and looked to his right before cutting back to his left.
Offensive tackle Nate Solder had cleared a path that sprung Barkley into the secondary. When it became a foot race with Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas the outcome was inevitable. Barkley’s 51-yard touchdown sprint gave the Giants a 19-3 lead in the second quarter and in that moment it looked like Barkley and the Giants couldn’t be stopped.
“It was a great call,” Barkley said of his long touchdown. “The offensive line blocked it up. I was able to get one-and-one. The wide receivers did a great job blocking down the field and I used my speed to get into the end zone.”
It was part of dominant first half by the rookie, who rushed for 94 yards on nine carries and caught six passes for 37 yards, including a 13-yard catch-and-run for the game’s first touchdown. But after combining for 131 total yards in the first half, Barkley had just 11 in the second half where he carried the ball just four times for 7 yards and caught one pass for 4 yards. His diminished production highlighted a second-half collapse by the Giants offense that turned their 19-3 lead into a 25-22 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.
“You have to give credit where credit is due,” Barkley said. “The Eagles came out and did really well, especially in the second half. They got the win and found a way to finish. That’s what we have to get better at.”
About the only one who couldn’t be blamed for Barkley’s lack of production in the second half was Barkley, who didn’t get much of an opportunity to duplicate his first-half performance. He ran the ball twice on the Giants’ first series of the third quarter, then sat out the second series as reserve running back Wayne Gallman got some work. By the time Barkley touched the ball again on the second series of the fourth quarter, the visitors were trailing 22-19.
Giants head coach and play-caller Pat Shurmur described the game as “the tale of two halves” and said penalties and poor execution limited Barkley’s opportunities in the second half.
“When we knocked ourselves off with penalties and sacks and all that bad stuff, then you get off schedule trying to get the ball to Saquon and Odell [Beckham],” Shurmur said, adding, “When you’re in third-and-long situations and second-and-long situations, the selection of plays and things you try to do are different. We hurt ourselves.”
Shurmur seemed satisfied with Barkley’s final stat line that saw him rushing 13 times for 101 yards and catching 7 passes for 41 yards.
“Twenty in total,” Shurmur said as if minimizing Barkley’s disappearance in the second half.
Barkley wouldn’t second-guess the play-calling or sitting out a series in the third quarter as the Eagles were gaining momentum.
“The offensive coordinator is the head coach for a reason,” he said. “I know everyone wants to be a coach and think what we should call. But they know what they’re doing and they’re putting us in the right position to win. If I carry the ball 20 times or I carry the ball three times or however many times it takes to win a game, I’m willing to do that.”
But the Giants didn’t win, ruining Beckham’s prediction they would sweep their final eight games. They stand 3-8 with no chance of having a winning season.
“When you’re 3-8 that’s not something to be happy about,” Barkley said. “We work our butts off every single week in practice and in the offseason. Your mindset is to win every single game.”
The Giants won’t win any games in which Barkley isn’t a factor. Their second half against the Eagles proved that.