There are not any jaw-dropping viral highlights to prove Saquon Barkley returned to the Giants.
Barkley ran 5 yards up the middle on the first play of the season — and fans responded with a chorus of cheers when MetLife Stadium’s public address announcer said his name. And then … well, not much.
The much-anticipated return of the Giants’ best playmaker 51 weeks after a major knee injury was a letdown because Barkley was a nonfactor Sunday in the 27-13 season-opening loss to the Broncos.
“I took some shots to my knee, took some shots to my legs,” a noticeably solemn Barkley said. “Nothing alarmed me, so I guess that’s a positive sign.”
Barkley carried 10 times for 26 yards, including a 4-yard stutter-step. He added one catch — a checkdown — when it looked like it might have a chance for a patented Barkley-make-something-out-of-nothing creation as he firmly planted his right leg, made a tackler miss and cut back to the middle of the field. But he dove into open space and was touched down after 1 yard.
“I’ve got to find a way to stay on my feet,” Barkley said. “I don’t think that’s any indicator of my knee. I guess that could be part of rust. I don’t want to overthink it.”
In the fourth quarter, when the Giants desperately needed to cut into a 13-point deficit, Barkley had three carries for 6 yards and was targeted on two incompletions.
“I was more nervous early in the week, but when I woke up [Sunday] I had no nerves,” Barkley said. “If anything it was more excitement. As the week went on, I realized it’s football. I get paid a lot of money to go out there and play a game I’ve been playing since I was a little kid.”
The Giants’ plan coming into the game was not to limit Barkley to a predetermined number of touches or snaps but deploy him as the game dictated — much less frequently than the 80 percent of snaps he is used to when healthy. Barkley played 28 of 59 offensive snaps, according to ESPN, but it was backup Devontae Booker whose chip block was crucial to setting up Sterling Shepard’s 37-yard touchdown catch.
“It’s not my normal workload,” Barkley said. “We just went with the flow. I started to get in a rhythm and feeling really good. My competitive nature came out and you want to be in there every single play.”
A few points of necessary perspective: It is most important for the long-term future of the franchise that Barkley came out of the game healthy … the entire remade offense was a dud … the offensive line failed to open big lanes against an average interior defensive line … and, even at his pre-injury best, Barkley always mixes in a couple lackluster statistical performances to go with huge games.
There’s a quick four-day turnaround to the next Giants game and Barkley’s availability could depend on how his knee responds.
“I don’t want the theme to be ‘the run game is not going because Saquon’s knee is still getting right,’ ” Barkley said. “I’m not going to use that as a crutch. The jig is up. I’m back on the field.”