Saquon Barkley played in the TaxSlayer Bowl the day before the Giants last scored 30 points.
The date was Jan. 3, 2016. Eli Manning threw two touchdowns, Rashad Jennings ran for one, but the Giants ultimately fell to the Eagles, 35-30, in Tom Coughlin’s final game as head coach. A lot has changed since then.
Thirty-seven games and two coaches (and two offensive schemes) later, the Giants hit the mark that five teams were averaging per game this season as of Sunday. Unfortunately for Big Blue, this one also ended in a loss. Barkley scored the Giants’ first and last touchdowns as part of a 31-point output, which was only spoiled by a 63-yard field goal as time expired in a wild loss to Carolina.
“We played our butt off,” the second overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft said. “Carolina fought too. It came down to the wire, a 63-yard field goal – and that hurts. But you’ve got to give credit to our team. From start to finish, they fought that whole game. We were down a couple times, we found a way to fight and get back on top.”
Barkley’s first career touchdown catch came on some trickery. With the team in need of a spark after falling behind 17-3 midway through the second quarter, coach and play-caller Pat Shurmur dialed up something special. On second-and-18, Eli Manning threw the ball backwards across the field to Beckham on the left, and the wide receiver caught it and threw it up to rookie Barkley down the right sideline for a 57-yard touchdown. It was the first ball that got the momentum swinging like a pendulum.
“The trick play was something that we’ve been going through before, we called it before, but we had to check out of it,” Barkley said. “Odell did a great job putting the ball up in the air, I caught the ball, and I was able to find my way to the end zone.”
After two interceptions apiece from Manning and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the Giants ultimately found themselves down by six points with 2:16 left in the game. Starting at their own 25 after a touchback, Manning got things going with an eight-yard gain to wide receiver Russell Shepard and a 12-yarder to tight end Rhett Ellison on the other side of the two-minute warning. The comeback really started to become a reality when Manning then found Shepard again deep down the field for 40 yards. On the next play, Barkley took a short pass to the right and did his patented leap into the end zone for a 31-30 lead with 1:08 on the clock.
“At the moment, it felt great,” Barkley said. “We said we were going to find a way to finish this game and the offense wanted to go down and score and put seven on the board. We needed seven on the board. Coach, offensive coordinator, that whole offensive staff, that whole drive they were calling great plays to put us in position to get into the end zone and we found a way to get in the end zone. But like I said, Carolina – what, a 63-yard field goal? I don’t know what else you can say about that.”
For the second year in a row, a kicker left the Giants speechless. Philadelphia’s Jake Elliott kicked a 61-yarder in a victory over Big Blue in Week 3 of the 2017 campaign. It was the first time the Giants lost when the opposition scored on the game’s final play since Dec. 12, 2015, when Carolina’s Graham Gano kicked a 43-yard field goal to defeat the Giants, 38-35. Gano was the kicker on Sunday.
In the process, Barkley accomplished a statistical milestone reached by just two other players in the NFL’s 99-season history. He joined Adrian Peterson and Kareem Hunt as the only players to total at least 100 scrimmage yards in each of their first five career games. The second overall pick ran 15 times for 48 yards in addition his four catches for 81 yards and two scores, bringing his season total to 582 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns (three rushing, two receiving) through five games. On the go-ahead touchdown, Barkley came down a little gingerly. After the game, Shurmur said, “He’s fine. He’s fine. He’s moving around. He’s fine. That was a good play on his part.”