Saquon Barkley touched the football just 25 times before his 2020 season ended because of a torn right anterior cruciate ligament that will force him to undergo surgery and endure an arduous rehabilitation.
Do the Giants face a similarly challenging road ahead without their most dynamic and decorated player?
Coach Joe Judge is confident his team will soldier on, remain focused and continue to improve. But he knows the offense will require some alteration without the running back who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the previous two seasons.
“First off, losing a player who is such a good teammate and someone who’s such a hard worker on the field will impact the team in a lot of ways,” Judge said after leading the team’s review of the 17-13 loss to the Bears yesterday in Chicago. “Saquon is a tremendous player. We have even more respect for him as a person. I personally hate for this guy, as hard as he’s worked and as much impact as he’s had for this team. I know our team has similar feelings as well. I talked to a number of players already.
“In terms of how we game plan and scheme, our focus will always change week by week. Regardless of how our roster looks, we’re always going to do what’s best for the team going forward to match up with the specific opponent. The guys that are on our roster, we’re going to have to find ways to put them in a positions of strength and find ways to match up with our opponent favorably.”
The Giants have three other backs on their active roster: Dion Lewis, who took over for Barkley yesterday and scored the Giants’ only touchdown; Wayne Gallman, who was inactive in Chicago but has rushed for 762 yards and caught 60 passes in four seasons with the team; and Eli Penny, who is listed as a fullback. In addition, veteran back Rod Smith is on the practice squad.
“Wayne and Dion are definitely guys that will factor in,” Judge said. “We’ll work to their strengths, they are two different types of backs. Both of them have a degree of toughness. Wayne’s got that long speed, get him ranging out and get him really moving. Dion’s got that real good short area quickness and burst to go get going. He does a great job of finding small seams and getting through the hole. They are both different guys, we’re going to have to work with what they do well to give them an opportunity to be successful. … There’s a number of players in our program we are going to be working with. We’ll see where the future takes us elsewhere throughout this long season in the NFL. There’s always a lot of roster movement.”
Barkley was hurt on the first play of the second quarter. While gaining six yards running to his right, Barkley’s leg landed awkwardly as he was tackled by safety Eddie Jackson. He appeared to be in pain before hitting the ground, where he grabbed his knee, pounded his fist and removed his helmet. Barkley underwent a preliminary examination in Chicago. The Giants announced at noon today that an MRI of his knee this morning at Hospital for Special Surgery confirmed the diagnosis of a torn ACL.
Barkley, who was elected a team captain for the second time, ends his third season with 34 rushing yards on 19 carries and six receptions for 60 yards.
“I think it’s emotional for any of your players,” Judge said. “You know how hard these guys work. You know how important it is to them. Not to mention how it impacts directly their own lives and their families’ lives. There’s definitely some emotion attached to losing any player. Saquon’s obviously no different. He’s been voted a captain on this team, he’s very important to the team, he speaks for the team. He always holds the best interest of the team first. He exemplifies what it is on and off the field for us. We’re going to miss having him on the grass, but we’re going to keep him involved as much as we can going forward.”
The two players who spoke publicly today grieved his loss but expressed confidence their teammates will respond favorably in the final 14 games, beginning at home Sunday against the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers.
“Obviously, my heart goes out to him,” safety Jabrill Peppers said. “He works extremely hard. Obviously, he’s a leader on this team. I know from working out with him over the summer that he was looking forward to this season after the ankle injury last year (that cost him three games and left him at least than 100% in several others). I’m definitely, definitely praying for him. But he’s a guy who’s going to bounce back better than ever. Minor setback for a major comeback. In this league, injuries happen. You hate it, but it happens. You have to have a next man up mentality. I think the guys that we have in the room do a good job stepping up.”
“For it to happen the way it did yesterday, I know we’re all kind of bummed because we are brothers,” wide receiver Golden Tate said. “We love each other so much. It’s unfortunate, but that is the nature of the game. There are injuries that happen in this game every game unfortunately. It always hurts when you have guys like Saquon and Shep (wide receiver Sterling Shepard) deal with an injury. But we’re just going to keep chugging. We can’t dwell on this. We have to just keep working hard and find a way.”
Everyone connected to the Giants, from players and coaches to the team’s millions of fans, are hopeful a healthy Barkley will return to the field in 2021.
“You look at some of the other guys around the league who have been able to come back from ACL’s and have tremendous seasons those next years out,” Judge said. “I think you can focus on there’s a lot of top athletes and with the medical care they get right now. This is a young guy who is very physically gifted. There are good doctors out there, he is going to get the best medical care possible. We have a great training staff to help rehab him along the way. We’re going to do everything in our position as coaches to keep him involved mentally sharp. Then when we finally get a chance to get him back on the field physically, obviously we’re going to gear everything around his specific plan to get him going full speed at the right rate.
“I tell you what, I said it yesterday and I’ll say it again, I won’t fall asleep on 26, it’s going to be a hell of a story.”
*Judge did not provide a definitive diagnosis on Shepard.
“He did have a lower limb injury yesterday in the game,” Judge said. “Tried to come back early in the second half and wasn’t able to finish. We’ll see where that is right now. I can’t speak for Shep in terms of how he feels. I haven’t been able to sit down with him and talk with him directly about that yet. I’m going to check with our training staff after this meeting and see where things are at going forward.”
Top contender Sergiy Derevyanchenko believes that his combination of skills and experience will make him the toughest challenge that WBC Middleweight Champion Jermall Charlo has faced in his career, as they near their showdown this Saturday, September 26 headlining part one of CHARLO DOUBLEHEADER, a SHOWTIME PPV event presented by Premier Boxing Champions.
“I’ll definitely be his toughest test at middleweight,” said Derevyanchenko. “Jermall has never faced anyone like me. I’ll apply more pressure than he’s used to. He’s also never faced anyone with my footwork. I’ll fight more on the inside than his previous opponents.”
Derevyanchenko sports a 13-2 pro record with 10 knockouts, following an extensive amateur career that included representing his native Ukraine at the 2008 Olympics as part of his 390-20 overall ledger. A pro since 2014, Derevyanchenko’s experience in the amateurs has aided him as he climbed up the middleweight division in the paid ranks.
“My amateur experience has helped me a lot,” said Derevyanchenko. “I came to the pros with much more experience in the ring than most other fighters and it’s been a big part of what I’ve accomplished. I believe that all of that experience will help me get the win on Saturday and take Charlo’s belt.”
The 34-year-old now lives in Brooklyn and has avoided any negative training impact of the pandemic by working with his head trainer Andre Rozier at their private gym in New Jersey. September 26 will be Derevyanchenko’s third world title fight, after losing a narrow decision to Gennadiy Golovkin last October and a split decision against Daniel Jacobs in 2018. Each of his previous title fights have presented different experiences that he can take into the Charlo fight, based off the similarities and differences between the opponents.
“Golovkin is a very different fighter than Charlo, but Jacobs is similar stylistically, so that’s something I’ll be used to,” said Derevyanchenko. “This training camp has been very similar to camps for my previous fights though. We just brought in different sparring partners for this one. We’re using fighters who can show us what Charlo will bring to the ring.
“We’re making necessary adjustments based off all our experience and developing a game plan specifically for Charlo. The sparring partners have been giving me great work and I’m absolutely ready for September 26.”
In both of his title opportunities, Derevyanchenko has suffered a knockdown in the first round, only to battle back and nearly win the fight. Despite the similar script, Derevyanchenko is not focusing on those opening round mistakes as he prepares for Charlo.
“I’ll be very focused in the early rounds against Charlo, we’re not dwelling on the past,” said Derevyanchenko. “We always have an eye looking forward. I’ll try to get the win faster against Charlo, so we’ll be applying more pressure early.
“Those first round knockdowns were just brief moments in those fights. I quickly moved on, put them behind me and fought my way back into it. I told myself that I may have lost the first round, but I just had to be better in the remaining rounds.”
With fight week here and the bulk of the hard training behind him, Derevyanchenko is prepared for the challenge Charlo presents, no matter how the fight goes or which strategy Charlo enters the ring with.
“I’m not solely focused on the fight going one certain way, we just have our game plan and we’ll see what happens in the ring,” said Derevyanchenko. “If I can knock him out, I’ll be ready to go for it. But if it goes 12 rounds, I have all of the skills to win a decision.”
On Sept. 22, 2019, Saquon Barkley was carted off the field at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa with a sprained ankle that subsequently forced him to miss three games, the first absences of his career.
Fast forward to exactly 52 weeks later, on Sunday afternoon in Soldier Field in Chicago. The Giants’ third-year running back again needed assistance to get to the locker room. This time, the injury is to his right knee, suffered on the first play of the second quarter of a 17-13 loss to the Chicago Bears. How long he will be sidelined was not immediately known.
Barkley will undergo a thorough examination on Monday. And while the news could be bad, coach Joe Judge put up a brave front.
“Obviously we’re all praying for the best,” Judge said in a postgame Zoom call with reporters. “I would just say this, regardless of whatever the outcome is going to be and what the doctors say tomorrow, I wouldn’t fall asleep on 26. It’s going to be a hell of a story either way.”
The Giants hope it is one with a happy ending. But they are aware Barkley could be sidelined for an extended period.
“Definitely tough to see anyone go down, especially a guy that works as hard as Saquon does,” quarterback Daniel Jones said. “And, you know, we don’t know what it is yet, but certainly keeping our thoughts and prayers with him. He’s a guy that comes to work every day. I know he’ll attack any challenge, and we’re all here to support him. So, yeah, always tough to see a teammate go down.
“I don’t think anyone knows exactly what the injury is or what that sets us up for. So, dealing in hypotheticals right now isn’t the most productive thing. But whatever it is, we’ll respond as a team and do the best we can going forward.”
Barkley wasn’t the only key offensive player to leave the game with an injury. Wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who led the Giants with 57 catches last season despite missing six games, hurt his toe in the second quarter and did not return.
The unfortunate irony is this was the first game in which the Giants had all their offensive weapons in uniform at the same time. In addition to Barkley and Shepard, wide receivers Golden Tate and Darius Slayton and tight end Evan Engram all played.
“Certainly, a tough break there for us today,” Jones said. “But I know those guys will battle and I think they’ll attack the challenge and we’re excited to support them, and we’ll have guys step up. So whatever the situation is, we’ll attack it and respond as a team.”
Barkley was hurt as he was running right. He gained six yards before cornerback Eddie Jackson came up to stop him, grabbed Barkley high and threw him to the ground. Barkley’s right leg seemed to land awkwardly and as soon as he hit the ground, he grabbed his knee and then removed his helmet.
Barkley did not put weight on his leg as he was helped to the bench area by Judge and assistant athletic trainer Justin Maher. He was placed on a cart and transported to the locker room. The Giants announced Barkley would not return to the game and will undergo an examination on Monday.
“In terms of carrying Saquon off the field that was just simply he’s a big dude and I wanted to make sure we get him over there with the least amount of stress on his leg as possible, and tried to just take the weight off,” Judge said.
Although he had just four carries, Barkley led the Giants Sunday with 28 rushing yards. Wayne Gallman was inactive, so eight-year veteran Dion Lewis took over at running back. He finished with 20 yards on 10 carries, including a one-yarder for the Giants’ only touchdown, and four catches for 36 yards.
Lewis, who joined the team as a free agent on April 1, said he is prepared to take on a larger role if necessary. But for both team and personal reason, he would much prefer it not be at the expense of his friend and teammate.
“He’s Saquon Barkley, so you lose a guy like that, it’s a huge loss,” Lewis said. “But you know, as a team, everybody’s gotta step up. Receivers gotta step up, O-line’s gotta step up, running backs have gotta step up, quarterback’s gotta step up, defense has gotta step up, everybody has gotta step up. It’s not going to be one person who steps up to make up for what he’s done, it’s going to take all of us.”
Lewis said he spoke to Barkley after the game.
“I just told him to keep his head up, stay positive, believe in God,” Lewis said. “Nobody knows what’s really going on right now, so just try to keep his head up. He’s a great kid, and we’ve grown extremely close since I’ve been here, so you know, definitely feel for him.”
Defensive players echoed Lewis’ concern.
“It’s definitely a tough moment,” linebacker Blake Martinez said. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on completely, but I saw him and said, ‘Hey, I’m praying for a quick recovery for whatever it ends up being.’ I hope to see him back as soon as possible.”
“Of course, your heart stops for a minute,” cornerback James Bradberry said. “But we really don’t know the verdict of Saquon’s injury right now, so prayers up to him and we’re hoping for the best.”
Shepard was injured on a 24-yard reception with just eight seconds left in the half. He was stopped by rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson. Shepard returned to the sideline at the start of the second half but soon returned to the locker room.
“Looked like the defensive back landed on his foot at the end of the first half,” Judge said. “He caught that big ball across the middle in that two-minute sequence. He tried to play through it. Obviously, it was something he couldn’t really run full speed on. So, we’ll see what the doctor says.”
The Giants will know much more about the condition of Barkley and Shepard after they are examined on Monday.
For the Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz, the 2020 season has been a struggle. In Week 1 against Washingon, Wentz threw two picks, and on Sunday in the team’s home-opener against the Rams, Wentz(26/43 for 242 yards and two interceptions) threw two more picks as the Eagles were dominated by Los Angeles(2-0) 37-19.
After trailing 21-3 in the second quarter, Philadelphia(0-2) cut the lead to 21-16 at the half and had the momentum. However, with the Eagles driving for a touchdown in the third quarter, Wentz was picked off by Darious Williams in the endzone. After the game, Wentz discussed what went wrong on that play.
“On the interception, [the Rams defense] made a great play. I got out on the naked there to the left, and they had us covered pretty well,” Wentz said. “I got pretty aggressive and tried to force one in there. [Rams CB Darious Williams] made a great play. I have to be smarter in that situation. Overall, offensively, we know we’re right there. At the end of the day, we had two interceptions and the fumble. Turning the ball over is really killing us the last two weeks. Those are the things we know we can clean up. But other than that, we truly feel that we’re right there. We’re just missing some things, timing of some things. We’re not panicking; we know what we have to clean up, and we will.”
At 0-2, the Eagles have an uphill battle in terms of making the playoffs. According to oddsshark.com, since 2007, 98 teams have started 0-2. Only 12 (12.2 percent) turned it around to make the playoffs, but according to Wentz, Philly can turn things around.
“We’re obviously frustrated,” he said. “You never want to start 0-2. Last week, the way we lost to Washington, starting 0-1, is obviously not what we want and not how we expect to finish ball games. And then today, coming out behind again, [is] not where you want to be. But we know there’s enough things through two games, offensively speaking, that we can put on the tape and know we’re right there [and] just missing some things. We’re right there, don’t panic, we’ll be okay. I’ve always had all the confidence in the world in our defense. Things happen, but we’re not panicking and excited to get back on it.”
Eagles RB Miles Sanders, who ran for 95 yards, but had a costly fumble that sent up a Rams’ touchdown in the first quarter, thinks Philly still has time to get right.
‘”It’s very frustrating,” Sanders said about the team being 0-2. “I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t. But like I said, it’s a blessing that it’s a long season. And like I said, we have opportunities week by week just to get better and get some [wins] on the left-hand side of that column.”
There is still a lot of season left for the Eagles, and Philadelphia plays in the NFC East, which appears to be weak at this point of the season. But, Wentz has to be better, and defensively they have to be better.
While the Jacksonville Jaguars(1-1) lost on Sunday to the Titans(2-0) 33-30 in Nashville, there were many positives from this game, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
On Sunday, the Jaguars had 480 yards of total offense. Gardner Minshew threw for 339 yards with three touchdowns, but two costly interceptions. Rookie free agent RB James Robinson had his first 100-yard game(102 yards, 1 TD), and wide receiver D.J. Chark had four catches for 84 yards. Jacksonville started slow and battled hard in this game, and they were down 14-0 in the first quarter and 30-17 in the fourth quarter before tying the game at 30 midway through the final quarter.
The expectations are low for the Jaguars, but according to Chark, Jacksonville can compete with any team in the NFL.
“I think honestly we feel like we can go toe to toe with anybody. It doesn’t matter,” Chark said after the game. “Our offensive line is going to move people off the ball. James is going to run hard. Our receivers are all capable of making plays, and they understand that we expect plays to be made every time the ball is in the air. It’s our ball or nobody’s ball, and Gardner(Minshew) is out there making great decisions.
“I think it’s just the mentality that we have, whether it’s 30-17 or it’s a tie game. We understand that we only control what we can control when we’re out there on the field, and I think that helps the offensive line, but it also helps the defense to know that in years past, when we’d get down, it’s kind of like a snowball effect, but they know even if the team does score, we as an offense have the potential to go score, too. So you just go out there and keep playing like every drive is a new drive.”
Minshew added: “Yeah, I mean, you see their resilience when we’re in there. But we also learned that we’ve got to start faster. We don’t need to be getting down 13 in the first place. I think if we jump out and play every quarter like we played that fourth, we’re going to be a really, really good football team.”
It’s still early, but Jacksonville played two teams(Colts, Titans) that many believe could make the playoffs in 2020 and proved to everyone that they could compete. Obviously, there are no morals victories in the NFL, but Jacksonville has to be happy with how they performed after two games.
Jose Pedraza’s second appearance in the MGM Grand “Bubble” resulted in yet another victory, as the Puerto Rican former two-weight world champion bested fellow 2008 Olympian Javier Molina via unanimous decision (99-91 and 98-92 2x) in the junior welterweight main event.
Pedraza (28-3, 13 KOs), who won a decision over Mikkel LesPierre on July 2, returned to Las Vegas and authored his most significant junior welterweight victory. Molina (22-3, 9 KOs) entered the evening on a five-bout winning streak, a career-reviving run that included an upset over Amir Imam back in February.
Pedraza, who switched from orthodox to southpaw, hurt Molina in the seventh round and widened the gap as the bout reached its conclusion. He has won two bouts since dropping a decision to Jose Zepeda last September in his junior welterweight debut.
Pedraza said, “They do name me the ‘Sniper,’ and that means I have to be patient, and when my moment comes, I have to take advantage of it. That’s what I did tonight because I was able to wear him down, break him down and make him fight my fight. It was the experience that I’ve had at the top level that helped me finally put it together. I’ve had the experience, I’ve had the talent, and it’s just on a night like this that I’m happy I could put it all together.
“I do believe I’m ready for a world title opportunity. Whoever it happens to be between Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez, I want the winner of that fight. If for some reason I can’t get a world title shot against them, I do want to respectfully ask Jose Zepeda for the rematch.”
Ajagba Goes the Distance
The knockout didn’t come as expected, but Efe Ajagba’s Top Rank debut ended with his hand raised. Ajagba (14-0, 11 KOs) notched a 10-round unanimous decision over Jonnie Rice (13-6-1, 9 KOs) in the co-feature, controlling the distance with his jab as he cruised to victory by scores of 99-91 2x and 98-92.
Ajagba hurt his right hand in the fight, only the second time he’s gone the distance in his career.
In undercard bouts:
Featherweight: Robeisy Ramirez (5-1, 3 KOs) UD 8 Felix Caraballo (13-3-2, 9 KOs). Scores: 80-72 2x and 79-73. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Ramirez pitched a near-shutout over Caraballo, a native of Puerto Rico who lost via sixth-round stoppage to former featherweight world champion Shakur Stevenson in June. Ramirez has now won five straight since a shocking split decision defeat in his professional debut.
Junior Middleweight: Leo Ruiz (8-0, 5 KOs) UD 6 Rodrigo Solis (4-5-1, 2 KOs). Scores: 59-53 2x and 58-54. Ruiz laid a beating on Solis, a native of Cancun, Mexico, who accepted the fight on four days’ notice. Solis, however, lasted the distance against top prospect Ruiz, who has sparred the likes of unified junior welterweight world champion Jose Ramirez and top welterweight contender Vergil Ortiz.
Super Middleweight: Christian Montano (10-0, 7 KOs) UD 6 Ryan Adams (7-3-1, 6 KOs). Scores: 60-54 2x and 58-56. Montano, in his first fight in nearly 18 months, returned with a workmanlike decision victory.
Lightweight: Bryan Lua (6-0, 3 KOs) KO 2 Luis Norambuena (4-7-1). Lua had not fought in more than two years and made up for lost time, knocking out Norambuena with a left hook late in the second round.
Welterweight: Jahi Tucker (1-0, 1 KO) TKO 1 Deandre Anderson (1-2). Tucker needed only 2:56 to prevail in his pro debut, stopping Anderson on his feet following a flurry of punches. Anderson, also a pro MMA fighter, was coming off a split decision win against a previously unbeaten fighter.
Welterweight: Kasir Goldston (1-0) UD 4 Isaiah Varnell (3-3, 2 KOs). Scores: 40-36 and 39-37 2x. The 17-year-old Goldston, from Albany, N.Y., had to go the distance in his first pro outing and swept the fourth round on all three judges’ cards to secure the win.
Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Boxing