Saquon Barkley is a symbol of a greater Giants phenomenon

NEW ORLEANS — When Saquon Barkley broke the plane of the Superdome’s north end zone with 4:54 remaining in overtime in an against-all-odds 27-21 walk-off win over the Saints on Sunday, he carried the fate of a Giants season in his arms.

This was a Giants season on the brink as they came to New Orleans at 0-3. They were playing in a raucous, intimidating atmosphere with ear-splitting noise staring at 0-4 and yet another losing season spiraling to nowhere.

So, when the 24-year-old Giants running back, deked Demario Davis, the Saints’ best linebacker, at the line of scrimmage and bulled his way over defensive tackle Shy Tuttle at the goal line to deliver a marvelously-fitting end to a wild comeback victory, he represented a symbol for his team that was desperately in need of a confidence boost.

Barkley was a symbol of the Giants’ perseverance on this day, when they trailed 21-10 with seven minutes remaining in regulation, forced overtime and saved their season with the win.

His determination during his long, difficult recovery from that torn knee ligament a year ago is a symbol of what Giants coach Joe Judge hopes is a resilient team.

Barkley looked pedestrian early in this game. His first two runs went for no gain. His third barely gained a yard. And his first reception went for a four-yard loss.

The patented explosiveness that Giants general manager Dave Gettleman famously said was going to one day get Barkley fitted for one of those Hall of Fame gold jackets was MIA, just as it had been missing the first three weeks of the season.

Saquon Barkley
Saquon Barkley
Getty Images

For the first three quarters Sunday, Barkley looked like the inferior back to his Saints counterpart Alvin Kamara, who ran with an explosiveness that always made it appear he was one missed tackle away from taking every carry to the house.

Kamara finished with 120 rushing yards on 26 carries.

But after what Barkley did to the New Orleans defense in the fourth quarter — first on a dynamic 54-yard catch-and-run TD that cut the Saints’ lead to 21-18 with 6:52 remaining in regulation and then the game-winner in OT — Kamara would give every one of those 120 yards back to be 3-1 instead of 2-2.

The way Barkley got better as the game went on, the way he looked to be gaining more confidence planting his surgically-repaired right knee in the turf to make some big plays, seemed to symbolize how his team found its footing in winning its first game after losing the previous two on the final play.

Yes, the Giants are merely 1-3 now, but this win and the way it was executed changed their narrative significantly — particularly a massive showdown with the Cowboys on Sunday in Texas up next.

Quarterback Daniel Jones (28-of-40 for 402 yards, 2 TDs and one Hail Mary INT) put the team on his back. But Barkley did, too, producing 126 yards from scrimmage with the receiving and rushing TDs.

And the fact that it was Barkley who scored the walk-off TD was not lost on his teammates.

“I was happy for him … I was happy for the whole team, but really for him coming off the injury last year,’’ receiver Kenny Golladay said.

“Everyone has seen how hard he’s worked and the adversity he’s had to overcome,’’ Judge said. “This wasn’t a small injury. He’s gone through a lot things, he’s kept the team first with everything he’s done and [his teammates] see that. That’s why he was elected captain by his teammates.’’

Safety Jabrill Peppers said Barkley being the player to score the winning points “means a lot,’’ adding, “I was happy to finally see him start to get back to his former self.’’

On his 54-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter, Barkley blew past Marshon Lattimore, the Saints’ best cover cornerback, with an inside move and he made Saints safety Marcus Williams look like a statue on his way to the end zone.

After he scored, Barkley sprinted to Jones to celebrate.

Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones celebrate a touchdown during Sunday's win.
Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones celebrate a touchdown during Sunday’s win.
USA TODAY Sports

“We ran that play earlier and I saw that [Lattimore] was sitting on that route and me and DJ had a conversation that it could be there [again],’’ Barkley said. “It’s kind of cool when you can see things before they’re happening, and me and him were on the same page.’’

The game-winner, which was the kind of a physical, darting run that made Barkley the No. 2-overall pick in the 2018 draft?

“Personally, it definitely helps with my confidence to make some plays out there, especially late in the game,’’ Barkley said. “Every single week I can feel my knee getting better and better, getting used to it. It definitely helps build my confidence up.’’

That, in turn, is a symbol of his entire team’s confidence on the rise.

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