By George Willis
The New York Giants got the worst news possible on Monday when it was confirmed running back Saquon Barkley suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Sunday’s game against the Bears in Chicago. He is out for the season.
Nothing is guaranteed, but medical advancements give Barkley, 23, an excellent chance to return next season and continue his promising career. Whether he’s as explosive as he was as a rookie is uncertain, but given his drive and determination, Barkley is sure to give his best effort to come back even stronger after an extensive rehab.
The Pro Bowl running back became injured on the first play of the second quarter, and the Giants lost 17-13 to the Bears, marking the seventh time in eight years the Giants have started 0-2. They won the Super Bowl after going 0-2 in 2007, but don’t bet on that happening this year.
Few thought Joe Judge could lead the Giants to the playoffs in his first year as head coach. Instead, his task is to instill a winning culture that isn’t always measured by wins and losses. If anything, losing to the Bears served as a missed opportunity to take a step towards that goal. The Giants had a chance to win the game. Trailing 17-13 with 2:02 remaining, quarterback Daniel Jones needed to cover 60 yards to get the win. He completed a 22-yard pass to tight end Evan Engram. But the drive ended at the 10-yard-line after an incompletion.
It’s easy to say the Giants had no Saquon and no Sterling Shepard, who was out with an ankle injury. And it’s easy to say, the Giants didn’t fold and battled back and gave themselves a chance. We heard that kind of talk of last week’s loss to the Steelers. I won’t be the last time either.
Judge is getting every benefit of the doubt, and at this point, deserves it. He had to meet new players and implement an off-season orientation program through zoom calls. He had no OTA and no preseason games. Now he has no Saquon Barkley.
Yet, there is plenty the Giants can build on this season, and if that doesn’t happen, then shame on Judge and the Giants. The “next man up” mentality is the core of every good team, and that attitude must prevail if the Giants are going to remain competitive in a season were injuries are taking a toll around the league. In recent years, the Giants’ motto seemed more like “next man out,” considering the roster and coaching staff turnover. Suspensions, bickering, and a lack of leadership haunt this one proud franchise. If Judge is going to change that, it must take root now.
The defense must be good enough to keep the Giants in games as it did in Chicago, and Jones has to find a way to cover those 60 yards and get the ball in the end zone. The Giants revamped offensive line suffered more than most from the confines of COVID-19. It will take a few more weeks before it finds some cohesion. It hasn’t shown up in the running game, but first-round pick Andrew Thomas, the rookie left tackle, is a promising talent, who won’t be a bust like Ereck Flowers, the Giants first-round pick in 2015. Stability and consistency should serve the Giants’ offensive line well.
Jones, looking to take a step forward in his second season, was 25 of 40 for 241 yards passing in Chicago. He engineered an 11-play 95-yard drive by completing 7 of 8 passes for 61 yards. But the drive ended with Jones throwing an interception. He also lost a fumble during the game on a strip-sack. He is credited with four turnovers in two games after totaling 23 in 12 games last season.
Young quarterback, rookie coach, no preseason, COVID-19 restrictions, no Saquon, and 0-2 start; the Giants have plenty of excuses to give up on their season. But overcoming adversity is part of building a winning culture. Better now than ever for Judge and his Giants.