Saquon Barkley runs strong, looks like he's back to pre-injury self

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Remember the Saquon Barkley who tore apart the league last season as a rookie running back for the New York Giants? He appears to be back after a lengthy disappearance spearheaded by a high ankle sprain.

Barkley hurt that ankle in a Week 3 win. Twelve weeks later, he finally topped 100 yards rushing again. It took a while -- longer than most, including Barkley, expected -- but the Giants' star finally seems to be running and cutting like he did while earning the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

It was all on display in Sunday's 36-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins. Barkley rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. He ran hard. He ran strong. He flashed those jump cuts, stiff arms and spins that make him so difficult to tackle.

Welcome back, Saquon.

"He's been itching for a big day," Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. "It was good to see him out there running around, getting back to how he does things. He's the best running back in the league, and I'll say that until I'm out of breath. He showed it today."

Barkley recorded his first multi-touchdown game this season and averaged a solid 4.67 yards per carry against Miami.

"I don't care," Barkley said of his best statistical game in months. "The only way that means something is because of the win."

It has been clear that the losing was wearing on Barkley. The Giants (3-11) had lost nine straight entering Sunday. They were 0-9 in games that Barkley started and finished.

The second-year running back also made a rather eye-opening admission during the week, conceding that aside from the physical part of returning from injury, it was also subconsciously affecting him mentally.

"Even though physically you feel like you're back, mentally you might be telling yourself that you're back, but you watch yourself on film and you can see the way that you're running and you're protecting yourself," he said. "You don't really think you're doing it, but naturally it's just happening. But I think I'm getting better and better each week."

It was obvious. Barkley wasn't running and hitting the holes as hard as he had in the past. He was dancing before hitting the line. He also wasn't anchoring as a pass blocker and was being exposed. Something just wasn't right.

Barkley has been getting close in recent weeks, even though the long plays that were common during his rookie campaign have not resurfaced. He has one run of 40-plus yards this season after having seven as a rookie. Against the Dolphins, he was taking the four or five yards available on any given run and topped 100 yards with his longest run being 12 yards.

"I thought he ran extremely well. You can see when you keep him involved -- three yards, four yards, eight yards, three yards, four yards, 10 yards," coach Pat Shurmur said. "That's always good when you have a runner of his quality."

There was a run late in the first quarter that reminded everyone what Barkley could do. He ran off right tackle and found himself matched against Dolphins cornerback Nik Needham. Barkley made a cut toward the sideline that left Needham foolishly in the dust.

The second-year running back also hit 19.92 miles per hour on a go route against a linebacker in the first quarter, per NFL Next Gen Stats data. It was the fastest speed recorded by any player in the game on a non-special teams play.

Talk of shutting him down or that the injury was still hampering his play is a thing of the past.

"I've been tired of that," Barkley said. "After the bye week, there's no excuse. I felt like I showed flashes in Chicago and Philly and Green Bay. But realistically, where it was [Sunday] is where it was going to go. Meaning if we run the ball, stick to the run. We didn't go away from the run. We had nice, long drives where you can wear and tear them down. Everyone loves it when we're popping it for 60 and 80 yards, but sometimes it's those four or fives or gritty runs that wear a defense down.

"That was the first time this year we were able to go out and get a four-minute situation and a six-minute situation and run away with the game."

It was also the first time since early this season that Barkley proved he's really back.