PHILADELPHIA — The Giants led 19-11 at halftime and had Saquon Barkley to thank for it. The rookie running back, returning to the state where he became a college hero, had dominated the first two quarters, displaying an electrifying blend of power and agility that reinforced how special he is.
He had combined for 131 total yards and scored touchdowns on a 13-yard reception and a brilliant 51-yard run. Then came the second half and Barkley disappeared, and ultimately, so did the Giants.
With their season on the line, Barkley was a non-factor in the second half, touching the ball just five times for 11 total yards, and the Giants coaching staff must share the blame for not giving him the ball.
What had been a 19-3 lead after Barkley’s long touchdown run ended in a 25-22 loss to the Eagles on Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field and prompted plenty of excuses why Barkley wasn’t a factor when it counted most.
Giants head coach and play-caller Pat Shurmur described the game as “the tale of two halves” and said penalties and poor execution limited Barkley’s opportunities in the second half.
“When we knock ourselves off with penalties and sacks and all that bad stuff, then you get off schedule trying to get the ball to Saquon, Odell [Beckham Jr.], and the guys that need to touch it,” Shurmur said. “When you’re in third-and-long situations and second-and-long situations, the selection of plays and things you try to do are different. We hurt ourselves.”
Yes, there were penalties. And when the Giants went three-and-out on their opening series of the third quarter after Eli Manning was sacked, it set the wrong tone. What remains hard to accept is Barkley sitting out the Giants’ second series of the third quarter so reserve running back Wayne Gallman could get some work. Gallman touched the ball four times during the short five-play drive before punting. By the time Barkley touched the ball again on the second series of the fourth quarter, the visitors were trailing 22-19.
Shurmur explained the Giants planned to “spell” Barkley at certain points.
“It had nothing to do with the outcome of the game,” Shurmur insisted. “We planned to get him a couple of reps off here and there. We also had penalties that had nothing to do with the running back.”
Barkley wouldn’t second-guess sitting out a series in the third quarter as the Eagles were gaining momentum.
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“The offensive coordinator is the head coach for a reason,” he said. “I know everyone wants to be a coach and think what we should call. But they know what they’re doing and they’re putting us in the right position to win. If I carry the ball 20 times or I carry the ball three times or however many times it takes to win a game, I’m willing to do that.”
Still, Barkley is too much of a game-changer to sit out any series. Plus, he was benched after Beckham had missed the opening series of the second half getting an IV. Bottom line: It doesn’t make any sense for Barkley to miss an entire series when anytime he touches the ball, he can go the distance. We saw that in the first half.
He was spectacular on his 51-yard touchdown run to give the Giants a 19-3 lead. Offensive tackle Nate Solder cleared a path that sprang the Penn State alum into the secondary. When it became a foot race with Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas, the outcome was inevitable.
“It was a great call,” Barkley said of his long touchdown. “The offensive line blocked it up. I was able to get one-and-one. The wide receivers did a great job blocking down the field and I used my speed to get into the end zone.”
At that point, it looked like Barkley and the Giants offense couldn’t be stopped. Then he disappeared. The Giants won’t win any games where Barkley isn’t a factor. Their second half against the Eagles proved that.