EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – To run or not to run? It is a question fraught with significance for Saquon Barkley and the Giants.
With quarterback Daniel Jones sidelined for the remainder of the season with a knee injury, Barkley is unquestionably the Giants' most important offensive player. This season, the Giants are 2-0 when Barkley scores a touchdown, and 0-8 when he doesn't. His 568 rushing yards are 362 more than the team runner-up (Jones) and 448 more than the next active player (running back Matt Breida). That's despite Barkley missing three games with a sprained ankle. Indeed, since his return on Oct. 15 in Buffalo, Barkley leads the NFL with 454 rushing yards and is second to Dallas wide receiver CeeDee Lamb with 518 scrimmage yards.
The Giants' best opportunity to finish the season strongly is to feed the ball to Barkley, beginning Sunday in Washington against the 4-6 Commanders. Barkley admits he still feels the effects of the injury he suffered in the Week 2 victory in Arizona but is undeterred.
"I just focus on going out there, try my best to make no excuses and go out there and try to compete and play at a high level for my team, no matter the circumstance," Barkley said today. "I've been injured enough. I've torn an ACL before; I've been out for a whole season. So, if I'm able to, for the love of the game, go out there and play and be able to protect myself and compete for my team, that's something I'll always try to do."
At 2-8, the Giants would have to win their final seven games just to finish with a winning record. But to an increasing number of fans and media representatives, they would be better served by losing and securing the highest draft choice possible. They currently own the third choice in the first round.
Coach Brian Daboll was asked at his news conference on Wednesday what he thinks when outsiders suggest the Giants should tank.
"Compete," Daboll said. "We're in a competitive business. Try to compete in everything you do."
Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka is also not looking to limit Barkley's rushing attempts.
"I'd say our training staff, they do a great job of taking care of those guys throughout the week so that they're ready to go on Sunday so they can go and give maximal effort," Kafka said. "I think we're just mostly focused on today and how that works. I know the guys are getting their prehab and trying to get their bodies right for this week."
In 2017, when the Giants were 2-9 and announced that Eli Manning would not start the next game at Oakland, chief executive officer John Mara responded to a question about tanking by saying, "I would never allow that here. We're going to try to win the games."
That remains true today. Daboll, asked about potential long-term vs. short-term conflicts regarding Barkley's workload said, "Do whatever we can to try to win a game."
A legion of social media cynics suggests the Giants are not giving themselves the best chance to win by starting rookie free-agent quarterback Tommy DeVito, who will play again Sunday.
"I don't really believe in that," Barkley said. "I can't sit here and say that's not the case for some places, but the way I look at it, it really doesn't make sense. Because at the end of the day, the coaches and the people in the front office, their jobs are on the line, too, just like our jobs are on the line. If you don't go out there and compete and play at a high level, coaches and players get cut, coaches get fired, and that's the business of it. I don't know if - tanking, I know it's not the right thing to do, and I don't know if that's really a real thing, I can't speak for every other place, but here I don't get that feel at all, especially with Dabs. You can see how fiery and how competitive he is. That's not the type of team or type of people we have in this building or this locker room."
Barkley isn't interested in spending more time on the sideline. Football players want to play. And Barkley's focus is where it was in Week 1, doing whatever he can to help the Giants win a game.
"You're still blessed," he said. "Every single one in this locker room, the majority of us, have been playing this game since we were little kids and dream about being in these moments and playing in the NFL. So, that's kind of the way I look at it. Just take advantage of the opportunity. Obviously, we're not where we want to be. The season, how it's going right now, sucks but we've still got a lot of games, and mathematically we still technically aren't out of it. You never know what could happen.
"For me, what I can gain is just continuing to get better. Every game is a new opportunity, a new challenge and I get a chance to improve. I get a chance to get better, and I feel like I'm still getting better throughout the season, I feel like I'm getting a better feel with the offensive line. Obviously, in a game like last week (a 49-17 loss) when things got out of hand pretty much early, I wouldn't say abandon the run game because I don't think we did that. When it came to the second half, we really got the run game going, but it's hard to just lean in on the run game, but that's what I gain. The enjoyment of playing the game and trying to improve and get better as an overall player."
View photos of the Giants on the practice field ahead of the Week 11 matchup against the Washington Commanders.
*Sterling Shepard's two-yard touchdown reception with six seconds remaining in Dallas was more than just a late score in a one-sided game. It was his 367th career catch, which tied him with Hall of Famer Frank Gifford for seventh on the Giants' career list. Ike Hilliard is sixth with 368 receptions, and Jeremy Shockey is fifth with 371.
*Cornerback Adoree Jackson (concussion) and tackle Evan Neal (were the only Giants who did not practice).
Four players who weren't on the field yesterday practiced today but were limited: linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux and wide receiver Jalin Hyatt (both non-contact with concussions), and linebackers Bobby Okereke (hip). Also limited were Barkley (ankle), cornerbacks Deonte Banks (ankle) and Cor'Dale Flott (shoulder), wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson (knee) and tackle Andrew Thomas (knee).
Running back Deon Jackson, who was sidelined last week with a concussion, again practiced fully.
"Jalin and Thibs have kind of advanced another step," Daboll said. "Deon cleared and Adoree' is below the other two guys."