EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The positive emotions stemming from the Giants' first victory of the season were tempered today with the news that Saquon Barkley will not return to the field for a while.
Speaking to reporters on a conference call, coach Pat Shurmur confirmed that Barkley suffered a high right ankle sprain late in the first half of the Giants' thrilling 32-31 victory over the Buccaneers yesterday in Tampa. Shurmur didn't have a prognosis, but weeks is the customary period for that type of injury to properly heal.
"I don't have anything to add, time frames, anything," Shurmur said. "I'll just say it's a high ankle sprain and we'll just have to see.
"It's like any injury, it's very unfortunate to have Saquon out of the lineup, we all know what he brings to the team, but it's going to fall on all of us to move forward and do what we can to win games."
Third-year pro Wayne Gallman will become the starter in Barkley's absence, beginning Sunday against the Washington Redskins in the Giants' first NFC East home game. The only other healthy running back on the roster is Eli Penny, though he is more of a fullback. Running backs Jon Hilliman and Austin Walker, who was signed last week, are on the practice squad. Shurmur said the Giants will consider signing another back.
"We certainly believe in Wayne Gallman and we certainly believe that he'll be able to step in and do his very best, and we'll just have to see," Shurmur said. "At some point, we may have to add a running back behind him as we go forward here."
Shurmur said looking for a running back is "a dynamic process. Depending on what happens in the game on Sunday, certainly the (pro personnel) guys are ready to go with their different lists of players and what their role might be."
Barkley has been the Giants' primary offensive weapon since he joined the team as the second overall selection in the draft in 2018, when he was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year. He established franchise rookie records of 1,307 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns and tied another with 91 receptions. Barkley's 2,028 yards from scrimmage accounted for 33.5% of the Giants' offense last season, the league's second-highest total behind Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott's 34.2%. He has started all 19 games in his career.
This season, Barkley rushed for 120 yards at Dallas and 107 yards vs. Buffalo to become just the third back in Giants history to begin a season with two 100-yard games. His 207 total yards placed him second in the NFL entering Week 3.
Barkley was hurt with approximately three minutes remaining in the first half after catching a six-yard pass from Daniel Jones. As he turned upfield near the Giants' sideline, Barkley's lower right leg bent awkwardly when he was tackled by rookie safety Mike Edwards. He was helped to the Giants' locker room and returned to the bench area in the second half wearing a walking boot and using crutches. Barkley finished the game with eight carries for 10 yards and four receptions for 27 yards.
"It's tough," tight end Evan Engram said of having to play without Barkley. "Saquon is obviously a special talent. He brings a lot to our team and our offense. It's unfortunate, he's definitely in our prayers. (We'll) try to get him back as soon as possible."
Gallman replaced Barkley in Tampa and ran for 13 yards on five carries. A fourth-round choice from Clemson in 2017, Gallman has started two of the 31 games in which he's played, once as a rookie and last Oct. 11 when he lined up in the backfield with Barkley to open a Thursday night game vs. Philadelphia. His career totals include 169 carries for 662 yards and two touchdowns and 51 catches for 306 yards and one score.
The Giants are confident they can continue to win with Gallman.
"We lost Saquon before the half and we came back," Engram said. "A lot of guys stepped up and made plays and we found a way to win. I think we have a lot of talent, and we have the personnel to be successful and to move forward. We are definitely rallying behind Wayne and are going to push him, and make sure he gets prepared this week, as we all know that he will. We are all going to come in on Sunday with that same mentality that we had going into the second half after losing Saquon."
The injury is particularly disappointing because Shurmur and the Giants were excited to see Barkley and Jones, their top two choices in the last two drafts, play together. Jones was outstanding in his first NFL start. He was responsible for all four Giants touchdowns – two passing and two rushing, led the Giants on a historic second-half comeback after they trailed by 18 points at halftime, and scored the game-winning points on a seven-yard run with 1:16 remaining. Jones completed 26 of 33 passes for 336 yards, threw two scores and no interceptions for a passer rating of 112.7.
Without Barkley, it seems more pressure to keep the offense productive is placed on the team's other marquee 22-year-old, Jones, who showed yesterday he can make plays under pressure with his arm and feet.
"I don't view it that way," Shurmur said. "I've already acknowledged the fact that when you lose a player like Saquon, it hurts in some ways, but it creates opportunities for others. That's just the way it is. Daniel's just got to do what he can do. I still think it's important to spread the ball. We're going to need to run the ball more effectively than we did yesterday, (when) we faced a pretty good front. That was a very good front, our guys battled up front, certainly. But we've got to run the ball better, regardless of who's carrying it."
That will be a challenging task without the player who perhaps carries it better than anyone else in the NFL.
"It's simple, we just have to make plays," Engram said. "We are going to get opportunities. A lot of guys are going to have to step up and we just have to get it done. Coach is going to do a good job at game planning, putting Wayne in good spots, and putting other guys in different positions to be successful. At the end of the day we just have to make plays when they come to us and just continue to build off yesterday."
*Barkley wasn't the only Giants player injured in the game. Starting inside linebacker and defensive captain Alec Ogletree has a strained left hamstring. His replacement, Tae Davis, who started the season opener, is in the NFL concussion protocol. And wide receiver Russell Shepard has a left foot sprain. Shurmur did not offer a prognosis for any of those players.