He is supremely confident and forever a team player. So you expected nothing different when running back Saquon Barkley was asked about the draw play on third-and-18 from the Giants’ 30 with 3:11 left in Sunday’s game against the Cardinals at MetLife Stadium.
The Giants trailed 24-21 at the time Barkley took the football from quarterback Daniel Jones and was tackled after only a 3-yard gain. On fourth-and-15, Jones was sacked by blitzing cornerback Patrick Peterson for a 10-yard loss. The sequence would prove critical in the Cardinals’ 27-21 victory as Arizona added a field goal and forced the Giants to turn the ball over on downs again to end the game. The Giants third straight loss spoiled Barkley’s return to action after missing three games with a high ankle sprain.
Barkley defended the call for the draw and thereby defended his coach Pat Shurmur, who was second-guessed for not calling a more high-reward play on third down.
“I think it’s a great call,” Barkley insisted. “We knew we were going to be in two-down territory. It’s third-and-18. They played it well. But if they drop back like most teams do on third-and-18, you’ve got one of your playmakers on the field with the ball in his hands.”
Despite Barkley’s best effort, it wasn’t enough to get a first down or the win, proving the Giants need more than Barkley on the field to succeed. He rushed for 72 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries. He also had a 32-yard gain to the Arizona 17 in the second quarter nullified by a holding penalty on guard Will Hernandez.
“I felt I was running well,” Barkley said, adding, “Cutting was fine. I broke some long ones today and made some people miss. Even when I went negative [yardage] I made some people miss. I felt fine, but didn’t do enough to help my team win.”
There was one scary moment. With 5:59 left in the third quarter, a tackler landed on Barkley’s injured ankle. He hobbled off the field, much to the angst of a rain-soaked crowd. But before fans could fear the worst,
Barkley received a quick tape job and returned to the field. He played without complications the rest of the way.
“It’s part of football,” he said. “It’s going to happen. You have to grind it out and I felt like I was able to do that.”
He wasn’t able to prevent the Giants from dropping their record to 2-5 and damaging their chances of playing meaningful games in December. Barkley might wear a gold jacket one day, but he can’t carry an offense that allowed eight sacks and hurt itself with critical penalties and dropped passes.
“He’s a huge asset to this organization, this team and this city,” said wide receiver Golden Tate. “There’s only so much he can do. We know he’s going to come out and give his best effort. But the other 10 guys have to do their job in order for him to do well. It’s not fair just to put it all on him and expect him to carry us to victory because good teams are going to figure out what they need to do.”
Barkley’s touchdown came with 8:13 remaining in the fourth quarter when he ended an eight-play, 82-yard drive with a determined 7-yard run to the end zone. It cut the Cardinals lead that was once 17-0 to 24-21. But the Giants next drive ended with the failed draw and the sack and their final possession ended on downs as well.
“We didn’t make enough plays because we didn’t put up more points than them,” Barkley said. “We have to learn from our mistakes because it’s a copycat league and the things we messed up on and allowed to happen in this game, we’ll probably see it again, so we have to prepare.”
Putting the ball in Barkley’s hands is never a bad idea even on a draw on third-and-18. But the Giants now understand as good as Barkley is, he can’t do it by himself.