It is nearly 12 years ago, and for those who were there, it continues to resonate to this day. Everyone knew Tiki Barber was headed toward retirement and this was the last game of his Giants career. He led his team onto the field at FedEx Stadium and did not leave until he inflicted great punishment on the Redskins.
Barber’s 234 rushing yards on Dec. 30, 2006, established a single-game Giants record. Along the way, Barber broke off touchdown runs of 55 and 50 yards. No Giants running back had ripped off two runs of 50 or more yards in a game since then, until Saquon Barkley. Sitting out the entire fourth quarter of Sunday’s 40-16 rout of the Redskins, Barkley, at FedEx Field, stirred some old Barber memories and created a few of his own, gaining 170 yards and erupting for runs of 78 yards (for a touchdown) and a 52-yarder to set up another touchdown.
Barber is the greatest running back in Giants history, and as soon as the Giants took Barkley with the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft, he realized health and longevity were the only caveats in Barkley breaking some or all of his records. Barkley is a bigger, faster and even more gifted version of Barber, and he has seized command of the offensive philosophy the way Barber once did for a much younger version of a quarterback named Eli Manning.
For those clinging to the notion Manning can return in 2019 to fulfill the final year on his contract, this is the most positive development to come out of the late-season winning surge. The only way this makes any sense at all is if the Giants continue to operate inside-out, with Barkley as the centerpiece of an attack that features him and his massive legs, and not Manning and his smarts, arm and limited mobility.
“He’s a tremendous player; I think we’re starting to figure out that our offense runs through him a little bit,” Manning said after a performance that offered 20-20 vision to this approach. Playing the first three quarters, Manning threw only 22 passes yet compiled a passer rating of 132.0, tossing three touchdown passes to three different receivers, showing again that with the 37-year-old version of himself, less is more.
Manning has been this way before.
“You know, more emphasis to run the ball and get that going and that will help out the play-action, help out getting more single-high coverages and stuff, moving the pocket,’’ he said. “Just help out the offensive line.”
Sure enough. Before they built a 40-0 lead, the Giants were actually a slow-starting group on offense. They went three-and-out on their first two possessions and punted on their first three series.
“First quarter was a struggle,’’ right tackle Chad Wheeler said. “We were going three-and-out, back and forth I guess, us and them, seemed like a defensive game at first. I thought it was going to be a low-scoring game and then out of nowhere I see Saquon 50 yards downfield a couple of times, he just took off, Eli making big throws.”
What sparked the turnaround?
“They got a lot of good guys on their defensive line,’’ Wheeler said. “I’m glad we ran the ball as much as we did.’’
Having a running back as the fulcrum goes against the spread-‘em-out, passing-fancy offenses of 2018 might seem counterintuitive on a team that signed Odell Beckham Jr. to a $95 million deal. But with a still-developing offensive line and an older quarterback in the pocket, it makes sense. Especially when that running back is as special as Barkley.
Manning can certainly deal with this, especially if it grants him another year. It is not as if this is all new to him. He recalls when handing the ball to Barber was the wisest thing to do.
“Yeah, early on with Tiki, that was definitely a time,” Manning said. “You know in ’05 and ’06, in those years, it was going through Tiki. Since then, not as much. I think maybe 2008 we were running it through Brandon [Jacobs] and Ahmad [Bradshaw] and Derrick Ward. So, we’ve had good running backs, but it has been a little bit, and it’s good to have it back.”
It is back, all right, with the best of the bunch leading the charge.
More that came out of the Giants’ fourth victory in their last five games:
— The Giants are now 100-68-4 against the Redskins and became the first NFL franchise with 100 regular-season victories against another franchise.
— These type of blowout victories are rare for the Giants. The 24-point margin of victory was the largest for the Giants since a 36-7 beatdown of the Titans in Tennessee on Dec. 7, 2014. The 34 points was the most scored by the Giants in a first half in nearly six years, since they led the Eagles 35-7 on Dec. 30, 2012. The 40-0 lead after three quarters was the largest lead for the Giants of any kind since they were ahead of the Seahawks 41-0 on Nov. 7, 2010.
— Manning is now the seventh quarterback in NFL history with at least 55,000 passing yards. He soon will be joined on the list by Philip Rivers, who is at 54,986. It is remarkable how 2004 draft classmates Manning, Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger — all so different in their personal and professional styles — continue to be linked so closely as far as statistical output and career production.
— When Kyle Lauletta took the field and actually threw a pass, he became the first Giants rookie quarterback to attempt a pass in 15 years — since Manning in 2004.
— Could Barkley, as a rookie, lead the NFL in rushing? His surge in the second half of the season has him at 1,124 yards, within hailing distance of Ezekiel Elliott (1,262) and Todd Gurley (1,203).
— Barkley’s 13 total touchdowns (nine rushing, four receiving) is a Giants record for a rookie. He had been tied with Bill Paschal (1943) and Beckham (2014).
— Through 11 games, the Giants’ pass rush was a contraction of terms — they had only 14 sacks as a team. After five sacks against the Bears and five more on the Redskins, the Giants now have 24 sacks.
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