The internal cocktail of confidence and health that Saquon Barkley tirelessly worked to restore finally returned.
The Giants running back was ready Sunday against the Cowboys to drive talk of his torn ACL into the past by building off a 126-yard, two-touchdown performance in Week 4.
“You just know when you’re going to have a good game, I guess you can say, when you feel right,” Barkley said, “and I felt pretty good before the Dallas game.”
Then, on the Giants’ sixth offensive snap, Barkley accidentally stepped on Jourdan Lewis’ foot with his head turned in the other direction to watch an incomplete pass. He hopped on his own to the bench, where his sprained left ankle immediately swelled.
That’s when Barkley no longer could hide his frustrations.
“I didn’t want to get on the cart because the last time I was on the cart I was out for the season,” Barkley said. “I didn’t want to have that mentality, but as clear as you guys saw my ankle, it was kind of hard to walk on that even though I wanted to tough it out.”
Barkley didn’t practice Thursday and almost certainly will not play Sunday against the Rams. He could be on the shelf for more than one game.
“What would go through your mind if you just rehabbed for 10 or 11 months to get back on the field and then you got hurt by rolling your ankle by stepping on someone else’s foot?” Barkley said. “You’re going to be frustrated. You’re going to be exhausted. You’re human. I’m human. So obviously, you have those negative thoughts creep in. You have a day or two to reflect and have that ‘Why me?’ mentality.
“Looking back on the way that I reacted, I was kind of disappointed in myself, but I care about this sport a lot. I care about my teammates a lot. Another reason why I’m frustrated is that I feel like I’m letting them down. Now, I’m just ready to go back to work and continue to get better.”
This will be the third time in as many seasons that Barkley has missed time due to injury, dating to a three-game absence with a high ankle sprain in 2019. That’s enough fuel for critics who disagreed with using the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft on a running back because of the wear and tear associated with the position to say the Giants can’t give Barkley a big contract extension when the team’s best playmaker will be looking for one in the offseason.
“I only control what I can control, and right now the only thing I can control is to find a way to get back on the field by taking care of my body,” Barkley said. “All those other things are out of my control, so I can’t even focus on that. To be completely honest, the last thing that’s crossing my mind is financial security or contract talks.”
In the search for a silver lining, Barkley hopes the time off forced by his left ankle is good for his surgically repaired right knee.
“I would never put myself out on a football field if I don’t think that I can contribute, or I don’t think that I can protect myself no matter if this was an injury before the major injury or it was an injury after a major injury,” Barkley said. “Whenever I’m ready to go, I’m going to go.”