EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Saquon Barkley ducked Tiki Barber's criticism almost as effectively as he does would-be tacklers, killing the former New York Giants player he called a "legend" with kindness in response to a claim that Barkley didn't want to hit anybody.
Barkley said he was going to use Barber's doubts as a "challenge," before later adding he truly doesn't care about other people's opinions. The all-pro clickers, as he explained, weren't his top priority. The people in his own locker room are. Barber, a former three-time Pro Bowl running back who holds the Giants' career record for rushing yards, went in hard on Barkley after his poor performance in Monday night's 26-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Barkley finished with 6 yards rushing on 15 carries, dropped a pass and struggled in pass protection.
It's that final point that stuck out to Barber.
"Saquon Barkley might not be an every-down back," Barber said on the "Tiki and Tierney Show" on CBS Sports Radio. "He cannot pass-protect. It's becoming glaring ... and it's going to be a liability. ... Recognition is one and two, you gotta go hit a dude. Saquon Barkley is a big man who doesn't want to hit anybody. It's frustrating to watch. He's a great back, but he's frustrating to watch trying to pass-protect."
It was a harsh, but maybe not completely inaccurate, criticism of Barkley's game. Barkley also struggled at times last season with his pass protection. He has even talked about needing to improve that area of his game.
So he doesn't seem to be taking it personally.
"Obviously, Tiki is a legend. Done a lot of great things for this franchise," Barkley said. "So I'm not going to look at it as disrespect. I'm going to look at it as a challenge."
He'll be looking to bounce back Sunday when the Giants play on the road against the Chicago Bears.
Barkley and Barber have a previous relationship. They went out to dinner not long after the Giants made Barkley the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NFL draft.
But that didn't stop Barber from basically calling Barkley soft. Did that bother Barkley?
"No. It does not, to be completely honest," Barkley said. "The reason it doesn't bother me is -- no disrespect to anyone on this call or anyone outside this when I say I don't care -- I truly don't care about other people's opinions.
"I know, you can ask my teammates, you can ask anyone in this building, they won't question my toughness. It's easy to be an all-pro clicker and to watch stuff on film and say, 'Oh, he should have done this, he should have done that.' Or 'You can improve on that.' That is the easy way. But in my position, I know how I come to work every single day and I know the belief my teammates have in me, so that is why every single week I'm going to come out and just try to improve and get better, not for you guys on the outside but for the guys in this building."
Former Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who retired earlier this year after 16 seasons with the team, knows a little something about being criticized by Barber.
"I think I've been in exactly that scenario before," Manning told ESPN with a laugh. "I think Saquon had the right reaction. He said, 'Hey, I'm going to use this as motivation.' That is kind of the only way to do this. You can't take one person's critique and take it personally and react to it or fire back from it. I think people have that good mentality, where, hey, try to end it by not responding much to it and going out there and doing your job."
Barkley and many of the Giants offensive players had a rough game Monday night against a tough Steelers defense. One play, when he failed to pick up a blitzing defensive back, can be put on Barkley. It resulted in a sack of Daniel Jones. There were several others when he either failed to recognize the blitzer or didn't fully engage the oncoming defender.
This was all part of a first live-game experience impression on his new coach.
"I think I saw a small sample of what Saquon is going to be able to do," coach Joe Judge said. "We've got to do some things to help Saquon throughout the game. He's a key part of our team, he's an integral part of our offense. We're going to keep feeding him the ball, and he's going to make some plays for us. I'm happy with the way he works. I'm very pleased with his attitude. He's a team-first guy who brings everybody along with him. ... I'm pleased with Saquon right now."
Judge has said it's his job and in his best interest to protect his player publicly. He'll be honest and open with his players behind closed doors, though. That's an integral part of the process.
There is no denying that Barkley had some bad moments in pass protection on Monday night.
"There were some examples of him blocking well in the passing game the other night. There were some examples of him not blocking as well as he needs to," said offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, a former teammate of Barber's. "He knows that. We're working on that; we're trying to get him better in that area. But we love his approach, we love his desire to be a complete back, and that's going to help him and our team going forward."
None of this seems to be anything that Barkley is sweating too hard. Not the performance and not Barber's criticism.
"It happened. The game happened," Barkley said. "I had 15 carries for 6 yards. I think I tied second lowest of all time with 15 carries or more. And guess what: I came to work this week with a smile on my face ready to work, ready to get better.
"It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you praise me or say negative things about me. I'm not going to use that as motivation. My motivation is to be great myself. I don't need you guys to push me that way. I need to focus on myself and try to build it up myself. So this week, it's no extra motivation. It's no this and that. It's just try to get a W for the Giants."