EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – After some of his best games, Saquon Barkley has been compared to one of his mentors and inspirations, Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders. Since enduring the worst statistical game of his career, the Giants' splendid running back has looked to Sanders for motivation and perspective.
Unfathomably, Barkley had 13 rushing attempts but gained just one yard in a loss to the Jets on Nov. 10. Because the Giants had a bye last week, Barkley has had that single digit attached to his name far longer than he'd like. But he's learned how to deal with it and discovering that Sanders once had a virtually identical outing has helped.
"It was one of those games where you watch the film and you just put it away," Barkley said today of his last performance. "I did research and I was like, 'I have to be the first back ever to have a game like that.' Then, I did research, and I'm not trying to put myself on that level and compare myself to that person, but Barry Sanders had a game where he had 16 carries and zero yards against the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs (actually, it was 13 attempts for minus-one yard in a 1994 NFC Wild Card Game). I don't think that stopped him from having a great career. If anything, I would think it pushed him and motivated him to be better."
The Giants return to action Sunday in Chicago against the Bears and though his focus will be on the present task, it would be perfectly natural for Barkley to take the field still reflecting on the lowest rushing total of his two-year career.
"Is it motivating me to be better for this next game?" Barkley said. "No, but there's going to be times when you're in a funk. There's going to be times when things aren't going your way. Obviously, I would love to make it go my way, I would love to have 13 carries and 300 yards, trust me. But I'm not going to get down on myself. The type of player I want to be, the type of leader I want to be, I'm not going to let that affect me. I think about the people who I admire who had games, whether it's basketball, LeBron (James) or Kobe (Bryant), they've probably been in a shooting funk before. But you learn from it and you get better at it. So, that's the type of player I want to be, and that's what I'm going to do."
What should help Barkley be that player is he feels as good physically as he has since spraining his right ankle at Tampa Bay on Sept. 22. And while the bye presented him with an opportunity to study his one-yard game, it also gave his body a break from the rigors of the NFL.
"(Not) taking the hits is probably the best part to make you feel better," he said. "I guess you could say everybody probably feels a little bit better when you get that little bit of time off. This is more just refreshing that I'm just happy to be back in the building, happy to be back to work, and I'm ready to get this thing rolling."
Coach Pat Shurmur was asked if Barkley is "more ready" to be the player the Giants need him to be if they are to finish their season strong.
"He's further away from his ankle injury, for whatever that's worth," Shurmur said. "I think we all need to do what we have to do to help our team win a game. I think the same can be said for him."
"He's had a good week of practice," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "He got some rest last week yet still got some work. He's like a lot of us right now, just really hungry and eager to go find a way to help us win."
To help him achieve that goal, Barkley remained focus on football even though he wasn't in uniform. Part of his work ethic is that he is always searching for an edge, or something that will improve his performance.
"I watched film, definitely," Barkley said of his bye-week activity. "I just broke down myself, watched myself, what I can do better, how I can help the team do better. That's kind of the question that coach (Shurmur) kind of challenged us to do, is we're talking about everyone is saying, 'Hate to lose,' or, 'Love to win, hate to lose,' I forgot how he put it, but he said the question would be, 'What can you do as an individual to help your team win?' That's what my major focus has been on."
What did Barkley's study reveal?
"You see where I can do better at," he said. "I guess it's a cliché answer, but it's how I truly feel, no matter if my numbers were higher than last year or higher than they are now, I can improve on every single thing. I want to be a better pass blocker, I want to be better at catching the ball out of the backfield, in-between, outside the tackles, literally all in all. I want to be one of the best players in the league one day, if not the best player in the league one day, I want to have that status, and I know that comes with the mindset of getting better every single day and putting your team first. So, I know I have to work on my little things for that to happen."
If all goes according to plan, the new Barkley is going to look a lot of like the Barkley who won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award last season.
"I'm just going to go out there and ball and have fun and go out there with my brothers, and whatever happens, happens," he said. "I'm not going to be worried about if he's hitting it too much or if he's not doing this or doing that. The reason I got drafted here is the reason I'm one of the best running backs in the league, and I'm just going to go out there and play and do what I do."
When Barkley is at his best, no one does it better.
*Left tackle Nate Solder practiced fully today after he was limited yesterday, and the Giants are hopeful he will play in Chicago. Solder left the Jets game in the second quarter with a concussion.
Tight ends Evan Engram (foot) and Rhett Ellison (concussion) were again the only two players to miss practice.