Looking at the stat sheet after the Giants 40-16 rout of the Redskins Sunday, it would have been easy for anyone to give the game ball to rookie RB Saquon Barkley. He finished the game with 170 yards rushing with a touchdown on 14 carries to go along with four receptions for 27 yards.
But head coach Pat Shurmur handed the ball game, instead, to WR Sterling Shepard.
Shepard’s stat sheet didn’t jump off the page one bit with two catches for 17 yards and a touchdown. But it was what he did off the ball that had the entire locker room in agreement he deserved the game ball, and Barkley explained the one play that stood out the most.
Barkley made it past the first level of Washington defenders, and found some running room as he made his way across the field. Cutting from left to right across the FedEx Field turf, he began to slow up with CB Josh Norman on his tail.
And just as Norman got his gloves on Barkley’s jersey, Shepard came by with a big-time block to allow Barkley a few more yards before going out of bounds.
“I remember mid-play I’m running and I’m thinking, ‘I’m about to set this dude up,’ and all I see is Shep just fly by [and] ‘Boom!'” Barkley told reporters after the game. “He killed a guy, and I’m mid-run like, ‘Whoa.’ That was impressive.”
Shepard’s astute blocking doesn’t stop there. On Barkley’s 78-yard touchdown run, Shepard made the key block on S D.J. Swearinger to create a monstrous hole for Barkley to run right through.
“When [Barkley] gets to that second level, it’s pretty much over with,” Shepard said. “There is an appreciation for that. I feel like even if you get a big gain out of that, it doesn’t have to be a touchdown. I’d still be happy, everybody would be happy with the block. But when you got a guy like Saquon that can go 60 [yards], we appreciate guys like that.”
The selfless act of giving up the body to allow another teammate to extend the play one of the many reasons why Shepard is highly touted by his teammates and coaches. Just last week against the Bears, Shepard was playing through a rib injury that made it hard for him to breathe.
But he showed up against the Redskins with the same level of physicality he tries to bring to the table every time he steps on the field. Wide receiver coach Tyke Tolbert saw that tenacity immediately during training camp.
I told my guys early on in camp – if I had to go into a fight with one of you guys in the room, Sterling would be the one I would take with me,” Tolbert said. “He is a football playing Jesse, as they would say in the south. He’s tough, he’s smart, he’s feisty, it means something to him.”
This aspect of Shepard’s game, along with his reliable hands and shifty moves in space, have made him a great No. 2 option next to star WR Odell Beckham Jr. After next season, Shepard’s rookie contract will be up, and the Giants should definitely consider a long-term deal to keep the duo together for years to come.
But that will come in time. For now, Shepard continue playing his style of football, and hopefully get some more game balls along the way.
“Because they write your stats on it and everything,” Shepard said referencing his two catches and 17 yards again. “That will be a special ball for me.”