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A pair of running back phenoms square off on Sunday


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – As if he hasn't done enough already, Saquon Barkley has a chance to do something no Giants player has achieved in 67 years.

The sensational rookie running back is third in the NFL with 1,124 rushing yards. He is 138 yards behind league-leader Ezekiel Elliott of Dallas and 79 yards behind No. 2 Todd Gurley of the Rams. Those backs might have their workload reduced in the final three weeks because their teams have either clinched a division title (the Rams) or are on the cusp of doing so (the Cowboys).

Pat Shurmur has no thoughts about giving Barkley the ball less frequently. And Barkley might protest if he did.

If Barkley does win the rushing title, he will be the first Giants player to do so since Eddie Price in 1951. He would like to add rushing champion to his resume. But like everything else he has achieved, Barkley will consider it a team, and not an individual, honor if he does.

"It wouldn't mean something to me to win the rushing title just in my first year," he said. "…Hopefully, before I'm done playing this sport, I would love to get one of those, because that's just a team effort there, especially with the O-line. Even though statistically your name will be the leading rusher, you'll be up on the top, but that's just with the help of your offensive line. When you get that, same like when you get 1,000 rushing yards in the NFL, but when you get the rushing title, that's just a credit to your offensive line. I would love to win one of those titles one day in my career for those guys."

Barkley arguably played his best game of the season in the Giants' 40-16 victory over the Washington Redskins on Sunday. He rushed for 170 yards, the second-highest total ever by a Giants rookie, on just 14 carries. Of course, one of them was a 78-yard touchdown.

Though Barkley's touchdown was the longest run by a Giants player in 11 years, it was not nearly the longest in the NFL in Week 14. That honor was taken by Tennessee's Derrick Henry, who tied a league-record that will never be broken with a 99-yard touchdown. It was one of his four scored in a franchise-record 238-yard rushing performance in a 30-9 triumph against Jacksonville.

On Sunday, Barkley and Henry – who are both among the four players tied for fourth in the NFL with nine rushing touchdowns – will share the MetLife Stadium field.

"The 99-yarder, yeah, that was impressive," Barkley said. "That's like the vintage Derrick Henry from college at Alabama. I think he was doing that every single week at Alabama. He's a big back, but a lot of people, I guess you can say, don't realize how fast his is. When you get a guy that big rolling at that speed, he was just throwing guys off of him like it was high school. That was definitely a real impressive run. Might be one of the best runs in NFL history. My personal opinion, I like Beast Mode's (Marshawn Lynch's) run still, but it's up there (laughter).

"Congratulations to him, but hopefully he can save that for this week and don't bust out any 99-yard runs against us."

Barley has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last four games, a franchise rookie record. He enters the Tennessee game on his second six-game streak with at least 100 yards from scrimmage. Barkley is the first player in history with 12 100-yard scrimmage performances in his first 13 career games.

As Barkley has heated up, so have the Giants. They have won four of their five post-bye games while posting an average of 31.4 points. In their first eight games, they averaged 18.6 points.

Barkley is the main contributor, but the offense has had numerous players pitch in during the current surge.

"It's definitely easier when you have so many options," Barkley said. "I've been saying that from the point I got drafted, that we're a versatile team. We have so many weapons on this team, and we're still figuring it out. Right now, when you got (quarterback) Eli (Manning) throwing for three touchdowns and we're rushing for over 200 yards as a team, special teams is playing great, defense is giving us great field position with the help of special teams, our defense is making plays. That's what coach has been saying, teams beat teams, players don't beat teams. We've been playing at a high level as a team. We got to keep it up down the stretch, and it starts with the Titans."

Now that both he and the Giants are taking off, Barkley's expectations are soaring.

"I feel like the sky is the limit, not only for myself, but for this team," Barkley said. "I felt that way once I got here, and I'm going to continue to feel that way and believe in that. As a rookie, hopefully I can continue to get better by understanding the game more, and being more efficient, and all around with work ethic, with my routine, with being a leader. Hopefully, I can continue to grow."

Is there anyone who thinks he won't?