Saquon Barkley's frustration, regression show flaws in Giants' rebuild. Are changes coming soon?

Kimberley A. MartinSenior NFL writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Saquon Barkley repeatedly shrugged his shoulders, refusing to unload all of the emotions that bubbled beneath the surface.

In the wake of yet another loss — this one, far more humiliating than the past five — the second-year running back looked as irritated as he has ever been wearing a New York Giants uniform.

Even with his gaze fixed firmly on the floor, his face couldn’t mask the frustration rising within.

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“I mean, like … I don’t know. Yeah. Frustration. Disappointment. Anger — everything you said,” Barkley replied with disgust, as he stood in the loser’s locker room Sunday afternoon.

This is how miserable this Giants season has become: Barkley (13 carries, 1 rushing yard) was rendered a non-factor by a Jets team that surrendered 26-plus points to the Jaguars and Dolphins in back-to-back weeks. 

Giants running back Saquon Barkley, having a word with team co-owner Steve Tisch before kickoff, generated 1 yard rushing in a loss to the Jets. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Giants running back Saquon Barkley, having a word with team co-owner Steve Tisch before kickoff, generated 1 yard rushing in a loss to the Jets. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Giants are in such disarray that they managed to lose to the other lowly New York team whose head coach was on a hot seat doused with gasoline by his own fan base only days ago.

The Giants are so bad, Sam Darnold — once a seer of “ghosts” — needed only one bout with the crosstown rival to believe that winning out was still possible. And, for one afternoon at least, Adam Gase looked like the offensive genius he was hailed to be.

The Giants have now lost six games in a row, but Sunday’s 34-27 defeat in what local tabloids had dubbed “The Toilet Bowl,” sunk this once-proud franchise to disastrous depths. Giants CEO John Mara never broke stride as he briskly walked past reporters en route to a stadium exit. But with his team heading into its bye week, changes of some kind should be on the horizon. They have to be. Even his players anticipate something will be different going forward.

“Got to be,” veteran safety Michael Thomas said. “I expect it, but I don’t know what’s going to happen. Whatever happens, we’re going to take it in stride.”

Pressed further, Thomas simply said: “At this point, yeah.”

At this point last year, the Giants were 3-7. Now, they’re 2-8 and showing no signs of continued improvement, despite what head coach Pat Shurmur tries to sell publicly.

“No one wants to be 2-8,” an exasperated Barkley, who returned from a high ankle sprain injury in Week 7, said shortly after returning from the X-ray room across the hallway. “No one wants to have a losing record. I don’t know. I don’t know. Yes. Everyone’s upset. Everyone’s frustrated.” 

Benching veteran starter Eli Manning in favor of rookie Daniel Jones was supposed to be about the future. But what will the Giants’ future look like with a head coach who routinely seems disengaged, a young quarterback who doesn’t take care of the football and a generational running back who isn’t playing well or, worse, is playing hurt.

Jones put up impressive numbers, throwing for four touchdowns and 308 yards on 26-of-40 passing. But he continues to have trouble protecting the football. He had three fumbles on Sunday, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Jets safety Jamal Adams. Perhaps more glaring than Jones’ carelessness with the football is Barkley’s regressing pass protection and his dwindling production in recent weeks. Against the Jets, he lacked that trademark explosiveness and ability to cut and change directions with ease. The Jets clogged up those running lanes and Barkley never adjusted. And with no semblance of a running game, Jones and the offense struggled to make enough plays down the stretch. 

Shurmur acknowledged after the game that Barkley “got banged up a little bit,” but when asked about his health, Barkley offered only a terse, “Next question.”

If he is still hurt, why is he playing? And if he is healthy enough to play, why is he blocking so poorly? 

(It was Barkley who failed to block Adams on a pair of sacks, resulting in one fumble that Adams took to the end zone.)

Despite the red flags plaguing his team, Shurmur was short on specifics when peppered by questions about Barkley’s productivity, Jones’ struggles and the overall state of his wayward squad.

“I think I’m seeing the things that will help us in the long run,” said the Giants coach, who appeared aloof, as always, in his postgame news conference. “Certainly, we haven’t done enough in the short run. We’re all going to get to see now, all of these young players, and we added a few more out there today, we’re going to get to see them develop as we go forward.

Asked what “things” he was referring to, Shurmur said: “That’s not for here.”

If not here, then where?

Who else is going to make sense of another disastrous loss in another lost Giants season? 

Who else is going to explain to a patient fan base why there aren’t more signs of growth in this overdue rebuild?

Who else is going to come forward and acknowledge that more change, at this stage, is necessary?

“My concern is putting a team on the field that’s going to win a football game,” Shurmur said, when asked if he’s worried about keeping his job after this week. “That’s my concern. It’s always a one-week concern getting ready to play the next opponent and put a winning performance on the field. That’s my concern.”

After Sunday’s performance, everyone at Giants Drive should be concerned about the direction of this franchise.

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