CHICAGO — Dion Lewis saw no need to sugarcoat the stomach-turning truth.
How do the Giants replace Saquon Barkley if an MRI exam Monday confirms he is out for the season with a torn ACL?
“Nobody’s going to be able to do what he does,” Lewis said.
Everyone agrees. So, now what?
The Giants turned to Lewis for the final three quarters in a 17-13 loss to the Bears and he rushed 10 times for 20 yards and added four catches for 36 yards. Despite the way he “hid behind some of the big guys” for a one-yard touchdown on fourth down, running between the tackles is far down on his list of skills — behind receiving and pass-protecting.
The 5-foot-8, 185-pound veteran hasn’t had more than 180 carries in any of his seven seasons.
“He’s Saquon Barkley, so you lose a guy like that, it’s a huge loss,” Lewis said. “Receivers have to step up, O-line has to step up, running backs have to step up, quarterback has to step up, defense has to step up. It’s not going to be one person who steps up to make up for what he’s done.”
Next up is Wayne Gallman, who had 118 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in the first of three games Barkley missed with a high ankle sprain last season. But then Gallman suffered a concussion, mysteriously fell out of favor with the previous coaching staff and was inactive Sunday after playing just three snaps in his much-anticipated fresh start.
Gallman is one-dimensional because he is a subpar receiver and doesn’t have a role on special teams, but the Giants’ crisis calls for a pure runner. The best-case scenario would be Gallman and likely practice-squad call-up Rod Smith – cut by the Giants last preseason – handling most first and second downs and Lewis’ role expanding beyond just third downs to other passing situations.
If it doesn’t sound appetizing, this is the risk the Giants took by drafting Barkley with the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and building a team around the running back with the fourth-highest salary cap hit ($8.5 million) in 2020. He is a dynamic dual-threat but plays a position prone to injury.
Adrian Peterson tore his ACL in December 2011 and won MVP with a 2,000-yard rushing season in 2012. That’s Barkley’s bar to reach on a comeback, but it won’t help these Giants.
It reminds Lewis of a situation from 2017, when his number was unexpectedly called late in the season after initially sitting behind Rex Burkhead and James White.
“One thing you know about Dion is he’s prepared and the guys really respond to him because he is a tough dude,” coach Joe Judge said, “and he’s got that look in his eye that he’s going to do whatever it takes to work with the team.”
If the Giants want to look outside the organization – beyond re-signing undrafted rookie Javon Leake, who was impressive during training camp – the best options are:
— Devonta Freeman, a Pro Bowler in 2015-16 with the Falcons, whom the Giants are bringing in for a workout. Freeman rushed for a career-low 3.6 yards per carry last season before he was released. He had a tryout with the Eagles last week.
— Lamar Miller, who was a Pro Bowler in 2018 with the Texans, missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL and was cut by the Patriots at the end of training camp.
— Call the Lions about (Kerryon Johnson or Bo Ty Johnson), Broncos (Phillip Lindsay or Royce Freeman) or Ravens (Gus Edwards) about a trade.
— Forget about Marshawn Lynch.
More thoughts after the Giants’ loss
1. Nate Ebner is listed as a safety, but he’s as much a specialist as a long snapper or kicker. Ebner played one total defensive snap combined from 2017-19 with the Patriots, but was lined up deep as one of four safeties on the field when the Bears scored their first touchdown. He didn’t seal off the middle and allowed David Montgomery to cut back for the final 10 of 28 yards.
“There were some situational calls where we thought that he was a good fit with what we were looking to do, both with his communication awareness on the defense,” Judge said. “He’s a very experienced player, a very smart player. He’s a guy that players can play faster when he’s around because he kind of calms everything down.”
Time to rethink this package because safety is a strength of the Giants defense.
2. Judge was smart with his timeouts in the fourth quarter, but the Giants strangely wasted one in the first half. On fourth-and-3 from their own 47-yard line, they hoped to draw the Bears offside. When it didn’t happen, Judge signaled for a timeout rather than taking the meaningless 5-yard delay of game penalty. The punt resulted in a touchback and the missing timeout could’ve helped regain possession earlier than 14 seconds remaining.
3. Jones didn’t throw the ball into the end zone on the final two-minute drive until the last play – and even that might have been short of the goal line had Golden Tate caught the ball and not been flagged for offensive pass interference.
“You’re standing on the 10-yard line with one play to go,” Judge said. “That’s really what you’re working for in the two-minute drills: Just give yourself an opportunity.”
The “Sunday Night Football” game ended in similar fashion, as the Patriots didn’t throw into the end zone on either of the final two plays and got stopped at the 2-yard line in a 35-30 loss to the Seahawks.