On Sept. 22, 2019, Saquon Barkley was carted off the field at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa with a sprained ankle that subsequently forced him to miss three games, the first absences of his career.
Fast forward to exactly 52 weeks later, on Sunday afternoon in Soldier Field in Chicago. The Giants' third-year running back again needed assistance to get to the locker room. This time, the injury is to his right knee, suffered on the first play of the second quarter of a 17-13 loss to the Chicago Bears. How long he will be sidelined was not immediately known.
Barkley will undergo a thorough examination on Monday. And while the news could be bad, coach Joe Judge put up a brave front.
"Obviously we're all praying for the best," Judge said in a postgame Zoom call with reporters. "I would just say this, regardless of whatever the outcome is going to be and what the doctors say tomorrow, I wouldn't fall asleep on 26. It's going to be a hell of a story either way."
The Giants hope it is one with a happy ending. But they are aware Barkley could be sidelined for an extended period.
"Definitely tough to see anyone go down, especially a guy that works as hard as Saquon does," quarterback Daniel Jones said. "And, you know, we don't know what it is yet, but certainly keeping our thoughts and prayers with him. He's a guy that comes to work every day. I know he'll attack any challenge, and we're all here to support him. So, yeah, always tough to see a teammate go down.
"I don't think anyone knows exactly what the injury is or what that sets us up for. So, dealing in hypotheticals right now isn'tthe most productive thing. But whatever it is, we'll respond as a team and do the best we can going forward."
Barkley wasn't the only key offensive player to leave the game with an injury. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who led the Giants with 57 catches last season despite missing six games, hurt his toe in the second quarter and did not return.
The unfortunate irony is this was the first game in which the Giants had all their offensive weapons in uniform at the same time. In addition to Barkley and Shepard, wide receivers Golden Tate and Darius Slayton and tight end Evan Engram all played.
"Certainly, a tough break there for us today," Jones said. "But I know those guys will battle and I think they'll attack the challenge and we're excited to support them, and we'll have guys step up. So whatever the situation is, we'll attack it and respond as a team."
Barkley was hurt as he was running right. He gained six yards before cornerback Eddie Jackson came up to stop him, grabbed Barkley high and threw him to the ground. Barkley's right leg seemed to land awkwardly and as soon as he hit the ground, he grabbed his knee and then removed his helmet.
Barkley did not put weight on his leg as he was helped to the bench area by Judge and assistant athletic trainer Justin Maher. He was placed on a cart and transported to the locker room. The Giants announced Barkley would not return to the game and will undergo an examination on Monday.
"In terms of carrying Saquon off the field that was just simply he's a big dude and I wanted to make sure we get him over there with the least amount of stress on his leg as possible, and tried to just take the weight off," Judge said.
Although he had just four carries, Barkley led the Giants Sunday with 28 rushing yards. Wayne Gallman was inactive, so eight-year veteran Dion Lewis took over at running back. He finished with 20 yards on 10 carries, including a one-yarder for the Giants' only touchdown, and four catches for 36 yards.
Lewis, who joined the team as a free agent on April 1, said he is prepared to take on a larger role if necessary. But for both team and personal reason, he would much prefer it not be at the expense of his friend and teammate.
"He's Saquon Barkley, so you lose a guy like that, it's a huge loss," Lewis said. "But you know, as a team, everybody's gotta step up. Receivers gotta step up, O-line's gotta step up, running backs have gotta step up, quarterback's gotta step up, defense has gotta step up, everybody has gotta step up. It's not going to be one person who steps up to make up for what he's done, it's going to take all of us."
Lewis said he spoke to Barkley after the game.
"I just told him to keep his head up, stay positive, believe in God," Lewis said. "Nobody knows what's really going on right now, so just try to keep his head up. He's a great kid, and we've grown extremely close since I've been here, so you know, definitely feel for him."
Defensive players echoed Lewis' concern.
"It's definitely a tough moment," linebacker Blake Martinez said. "I don't know exactly what's going on completely, but I saw him and said, 'Hey, I'm praying for a quick recovery for whatever it ends up being.' I hope to see him back as soon as possible."
"Of course, your heart stops for a minute," cornerback James Bradberry said. "But we really don't know the verdict of Saquon's injury right now, so prayers up to him and we're hoping for the best."
Shepard was injured on a 24-yard reception with just eight seconds left in the half. He was stopped by rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson. Shepard returned to the sideline at the start of the second half but soon returned to the locker room.
"Looked like the defensive back landed on his foot at the end of the first half," Judge said. "He caught that big ball across the middle in that two-minute sequence. He tried to play through it. Obviously, it was something he couldn't really run full speed on. So, we'll see what the doctor says."
The Giants will know much more about the condition of Barkley and Shepard after they are examined on Monday.