Saquon Barkley's first three touches on Sunday amounted to a loss of four yards. His fourth wasn't even a touch at all. It was a rare drop on second-and-six, and the rookie running back had a clear path to a first down in a game that began with six punts. After some harsh words for himself, he tapped his chest as he ran back to the huddle to signal "my fault" and smacked his head knowing he's better than that.
And then he used his words.
"After the drop I went to those guys, I went to the line, the quarterback and the wide receivers, and said, 'That series is on me. I'm going to make up for it. I promise you guys,'" Barkley recalled after the game. "And we were able to do that."
From there, Barkley went on to have a 170-yard day on the ground. That included a 78-yard touchdown as the Giants defeated the Redskins, 40-16, for their fourth win in five games since the bye week.
"Just the whole game was fun," Barkley said. "The message of the team was go out and play for each other and play for your brother. You felt that energy throughout the whole game from start to finish. Even with our offense having a slow start, it was contagious. You felt it on the sideline. We were, especially in the run game, dominant up front. Got to give credit to the offensive line – did an amazing job once again. And we were able to come out with a win."
In the process, Barkley extended, broke or tied numerous records and milestones. That includes setting the Giants rookie record with 13 total touchdowns. He now has five touchdowns from scrimmage this season of 50 or more yards, the most ever by a Giants rookie and the most by any Giants player since Odell Beckham Jr. had five in 2015. He is the first NFL rookie with five 50-yard touchdowns from scrimmage since Randy Moss in 1998. Only Billy Howton of the 1952 Green Bay Packers had more such touchdowns as a rookie (six).
"The drop still bothers me," Barkley said. "I work on that all the time. I pride myself on being a running back that catches the ball out of the backfield. And especially in that moment, we started off slow and we needed a little drive to get it going. I was wide open, and I took my eyes off of it, so I told the offense that that drive is on me, and I'll make up for it."
IT WAS OVER WHEN: The rout was on when linebacker Alec Ogletree intercepted Mark Sanchez in Redskins territory and the Giants capitalized on a three-yard touchdown from Eli Manning to Sterling Shepard as part of a 27-point second quarter. Despite missing Odell Beckham Jr., who was ruled out with a bruised quad, Manning threw touchdowns to three different receivers. He later hit Bennie Fowler to make it 31-0 and then Russell Shepard to cap the 40-point day.
UNHERALDED PLAYER OF THE GAME: Sterling Shepard. Fighting through a rib injury, the 5-foot-10, 203-pound receiver delivered key blocks for Barkley, including on his 78-yard touchdown and 52-yard dash. "Yeah, anytime I touch the ball, I think I'm taking it the distance, to be honest," Barkley said. "But, that [52-yard] play, can we talk about Shep's block on that play? That was ridiculous. I mean, first and foremost, the O-line did a great job, our tight ends did a great job on that scheme that we had there of giving me a hole and I got in one-on-one with that guy again and was able to cut it back. I remember mid-play, I'm running and I'm reacting to how I think I'm going to set this dude up. All I see is Shep, boom, just killed a guy. And mid-run, I'm like, 'Whoa.' That was impressive. But I've got to be better there. I've got to crack it in the end zone."
UNHERALDED PLAY OF THE GAME: Antonio Hamilton downed Riley Dixon's punt at the two-yard line, and two plays later, Curtis Riley returned an interception nine yards for a touchdown. It was the first score of the game, which had the makings of a punters duel. But that changed in a hurry. The punt coverage team had a similar play the week before against the Bears. Russell Shepard tipped the ball to Antonio Hamilton, who then knocked it to Zak DeOssie, who downed the ball at the two. With Chicago backed up on its goal line, the Giants forced and recovered a fumble that led to a key field goal late in the fourth quarter.
WHAT THE WIN MEANS FOR THE GIANTS: Despite their 4-1 record since the bye week, the Cowboys' victory over the Eagles officially eliminated the Giants from the NFC East race. They are not completely out of the running for a wild-card spot.
"More than anything, I'm pleased for our team," coach Pat Shurmur said. "I think sometimes when I say it's about team and you're playing and you don't do that [playoff] math, if you do that, we can have a day like [Sunday] and you can build on that. Years are connected, and I think that's something we're trying to do."
WHAT THE LOSS MEANS FOR THE REDSKINS: Since a win over the Giants in Week 8 that improved their record to 5-2, the Redskins have lost five of their past six games. Sunday's defeat was their fourth in a row, a span in which they lost two starting quarterbacks and replaced the third midway through the loss to the Giants.
"It's tough to deal with," coach Jay Gruden said. "It really is. It's unfortunate. Our guys continue to compete. That product we put on the field [Sunday] was not a reflection of the guys' work during the week and at practice. However, it did look bad. It's a reflection of all of us. I think our players competed and did the best they could. Mark Sanchez and Josh Johnson, can't say enough about them coming in here with really short notice trying to learn an NFL offense and play on a Sunday with limited reps. They competed and did the best they could. At the end of the day, we weren't quite ready."