Saquon Barkley aftermath revealed a lot about Giants

The first thing you saw was the flag, and in a way that made perfect sense because this really did feel like a game that should end with no time left on the clock, the Giants and the Bears fighting over one final yard, the skinniest margin between a win and a loss.

The Giants had already suffered a gruesome loss, of course. Saquon Barkley was back in the visitors’ locker room at Soldier Field, his right knee wrapped, already X-rayed, surely bound for an MRI tube Monday. The news wasn’t expected to be good. Barkley’s knee went one way. The rest of him went the other. That’s always a terrible recipe. Usually spelled: A-C-L.

A happy ending here wouldn’t change any of that.

But it would give a measure of balance to a long afternoon in Chicago. The Giants trailed 17-0 at the half. They looked overmatched, overwhelmed, the Bears having their way with them on both sides of the ball. Daniel Jones had two more turnovers. The defense had allowed Mitch Trubisky to too often look like Sid Luckman.

“Halftime,” Joe Judge volunteered, “was like that practice you wrote about recently.”

The coach was referring to the middling workout a few weeks ago when he’d blown his whistle, angry at his team’s effort, and started everything over again, right from calisthenics. It was a cute late-camp story: The eager, earnest young coach motivating his charges. Except a funny thing happened this time.

Julian Love picked off Trubisky, and the Giants followed with a field goal. The Bears suddenly couldn’t move the ball. Trubisky started looking like Trubisky. Jones shook off his early malaise, engineered an 11-play, 95-yard touchdown drive. James Bradberry made one of the great plays you’ll ever see, picking off Trubisky. The Giants added another field goal.

Then saw a Bears field-goal try sail left.

Then drove 40 yards in 12 plays, sat at the Bears’ 10, four seconds left. If there had been people inside Soldier Field they would’ve been cowed to silence by now. Instead, the natural hush of 61,500 empty seats simply served as an appropriate soundtrack. One play to win, one play to lose. Jones misfired. Bears celebrated.

And there was the flag.

“At first,” Jones admitted, “I hoped we’d get another chance.”

But you could see one of the referees pointing in the wrong direction. You saw Bears defensive backs celebrate. You saw Giants receiver Golden Tate start to protest, then think better of it. He’d pushed off. The game was over. Ten yards between 0-2 and 1-1. Ten yards separating a happy ending and the crushing reality of: What now?

“I’m very proud of the way our team fought and finished the game,” Judge said. “We gave ourselves a chance.”

He paused.

“We have the right players,” Judge said. “We have the right kind of players on this team.”

For a second straight week the Giants hung with a team they had no real business hanging with, and this time they were able to throw the genuine scare into the Bears that never quite came against the Steelers Monday night. These two weeks do reflect favorably on the 38-year-old coach, even if he waits still for his first career victory, and on the character of his team.

But while Judge and his players tried to minimize the immediate impact of losing Barkley — and if preliminary fears are accurate, it’s his ACL, and that means at least the rest of this season — the reality is the Giants are a team that barely has enough players as it is; they certainly can’t afford to lose any. Certainly not their stars.

Yet there Barkley was, falling awkwardly on his knee on the first play of the second quarter, two plays after ripping off his first Barkleyesque rush of the season, an 18-yard beauty that set the Giants up near midfield. You knew right away it was bad, and Barkley’s subsequent reactions confirmed it.

“He’s Saquon Barkley,” said Dion Lewis, asked to fill in in Barkley’s absence. “You lose a guy like that, it’s a huge loss.”

Judge, as is his way, urged his team to focus on everything besides the MRI tube that will deliver Barkley’s official verdict Monday. He has no choice and neither do they. The season doesn’t pause. Football’s a tough gig.

“We go back to work, that’s where we go,” he said. “Our vision has to be forward.”

It’s why it would have been something, at least, to take a stunning win home with them on the plane alongside this devastating loss, why there was still life standing on the 10-yard line, four seconds left. Turns out it was 10 yards too many, four seconds too little.

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