It happened only a month ago. The Giants beat the Texans to improve to 7-2 and Saquon Barkley had another big day with 152 yards and a touchdown. The running back was well on his way to potential comeback player of the year honors and, potentially, a future in town.
It has been all downhill since. The Giants are winless in their last four games — 0-3-1 after Sunday’s ugly 48-22 loss to the Eagles at MetLife Stadium — while Barkley has been shut down during that span. And now he’s banged up as well.
As a result, what happens in 2023 and beyond once again feels very much up in the air.
The initial outlook. Entering the year, the expectation was it would be Barkley’s final season as a Giant. With a new regime in place, the Giants weren’t expected to win many games nor offer Barkley a new contract (or the franchise tag) following the season.
But through the first two months of the year, things began to look different. The Giants won games, Barkley was one of the league’s top rushers, and it looked as if tagging Barkley would’ve been the correct move by new general manager Joe Schoen.
Overall, the fifth-year back looked like he was putting the injury issues and backfield dancing in the rearview. He was again the tough workhorse back he was during a sensational 2018 rookie campaign. But things change quickly in the NFL.
The current slump. In the last four games against the Commanders, Cowboys, Eagles and Lions Barkley has a combined 152 rushing yards on 53 carries with two touchdowns. That’s an average of 2.9 yards per carry. He was averaging 4.7 yards per carry with six rushing touchdowns in the first eight games.
Through the first nine games, Barkley averaged 22 carries per game. The last four matchups? About 13. Plus the injuries. Barkley missed 21 games over the 2019-21 seasons, including 14 due to an ACL tear in 2020. He appeared to have moved past his health issues, but now he is dealing with a neck injury. He was questionable entering Sunday and only played 20 of 62 snaps, even though head coach Brian Daboll insisted it was not due to injury.
Resetting expectations. Regardless of Barkley’s productive first two months of the year, this poor stretch has undoubtedly cast a dark cloud.
There are four games remaining on the regular-season schedule, plus the playoffs if the Giants find momentum down the stretch. That means at least four opportunities for the Giants to return to the win column and for Barkley to show he can still be a consistently effective back.
If Barkley can return to his productive ways, he could eventually stay in blue. But if the woes persist, he may depart. Right now, it’s looking as if Barkley could be headed toward the exit sign. Time will tell whether he bounces back and changes the narrative.