EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The game ended Sunday with New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley standing in the corner of the end zone at the Caesars Superdome with his finger over his lips silencing the raucous crowd.
His winning 6-yard touchdown run in a 27-21 overtime victory against the New Orleans Saints was a feeling Barkley had waited 651 days to experience, since a 41-35 OT win against Washington on Dec. 22, 2019. That was the last time he was on the field playing and contributing to a Giants' victory.
He missed almost all of last season after tearing his the ACL in his right knee Week 2, and was off to a slow start this season as the Giants lost their first three games. Sunday was important because he scored twice, lifting the Giants to their first win, but maybe more so because there were signs the old Barkley is back.
You know, the one who jukes and explodes into the open field with rare power and speed. The one who breaks through the line of scrimmage like a bulldozer wearing turbojets. The one who gets into space and makes defenders look silly trying to touch him, let alone get him to the ground.
That guy appeared to be on the field in the second half against the Saints.
"He looks like he's back," a pro personnel director who watched him recently told ESPN. "It looks like he has the explosiveness back, the power back, he's a mismatch out of the backfield like you saw [Sunday]. Maybe the first week or two he looked hesitant, but it looked like he trusted it against New Orleans."
There was a 54-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter against the Saints, a key 18-yard screen pass and the winning score to make him feel better about where he is four weeks into the comeback.
It's encouraging for Barkley -- in the fourth season of his rookie contract -- and the Giants, who face another tough road test against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox).
"It definitely helps my confidence to be able to make some plays out there, especially late in the game," Barkley said. "Feels good to get the win. ... Like I keep saying, every single week I can feel my knee getting better and better."
The early part of the season has been up and down for Barkley. After Sunday's performance he has 186 yards on 52 carries with two TDs rushing and 14 catches for 130 yards and one TD this season. He has used the word "rusty" at times but refuses to use the knee as an excuse for limited production.
His first two runs in New Orleans demonstrated his slow start: He approached the line gingerly, danced and didn't recognize the holes. Both went for no gain. Perhaps it was more a lack of trust in the ever-changing offensive line, which played its best game of the season against the Saints, than his body. Six of Barkley's first 10 carries Sunday went for 1 yard or less against a strong New Orleans front.
He is averaging 3.6 yards per carry this season, tied for 39th among the 49 qualifying running backs. But on the run that ended the game, he was met 2 yards deep in the backfield by linebacker Demario Davis. Barkley made a quick jump cut to his right and squared his body upfield. He quickly charged forward and avoided two diving tackle attempts before powering through defensive lineman Shy Tuttle at the goal line for the score.
It's the kind of hard run the Giants would like to see more from Barkley.
"It's really about those dirty runs," wide receiver Kenny Golladay said. "It probably didn't look like much was there, but 4 yards per carry right there on certain runs and then you're going to spring the big one."
That has been Barkley's modus operandi throughout his career, but he has one run of 20-plus yards this season. He finished Sunday with 13 rushes for 52 yards (4.0 ypc). His biggest plays came when the Giants got him into the open field in the passing game.
That is when Barkley was able to show his explosiveness. His touchdown grab came when he raced down the left sideline past Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore, caught the ball in stride and made a hard cut with speed to the middle of the field that left safety Marcus Williams looking helpless trying to make the tackle.
Barkley finished with five catches for 74 yards and a touchdown. His teammates took joy in seeing him make the game-changing plays they have come to expect.
"The guys that see him work day in day out and see how much this means," quarterback Daniel Jones said. "I think everyone shares that excitement and happiness for him. No one deserves it more [given] what he does; what he puts into it, how hard he works."
Now it's just a matter of whether Barkley can use this as a jumping-off point and return to top form in time to save this Giants season.