EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It took all of one drive on Sunday to see what kind of afternoon it was going to be for running back Saquon Barkley.
On the third play from scrimmage, quarterback Tommy DeVito saw his running back downfield on a scramble drill and feathered the ball perfectly over a safety's outstretched arm. Barkley leapt, contorted his body and made the grab high in the air before touching both feet inbounds to complete the catch.
It was the kind of catch that most running backs aren't expected to make. It went for a rare 21-yard gain on third-and-10 and also foreshadowed what was about to happen: A reemergence of Barkley, the difference-making receiver.
Barkley caught a pair of touchdown passes in the 31-19 win over the Washington Commanders. Even more notably, one was on a 24-yard wheel route down the right sideline later in the first quarter when he lined up in the slot. The other, which was from five yards out in the fourth quarter, was the winning score.
"It felt great, especially on the first [touchdown]," Barkley said. "It's a play I've been asking for a long time. So when we got it called, in my mind I was like, 'I can't mess this one up.' It feels good to get in the end zone twice. It feels good to get a win."
This is a play that Barkley said they've been working on since training camp. These are the kind of routes that he was seen running this summer, but haven't translated to the season.
The first score was Barkley's initial target on a designed route 10-plus yards downfield this season. His only other 10-plus-yard target was on a scramble play with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback against the New York Jets. That pass was knocked down before it reached the intended receiver.
Barkley's second receiving touchdown grab Sunday came on what was sort of a crossing route where he received a double-pick from the wide receivers as he worked his way to the right pylon in the fourth quarter. DeVito hit Barkley in stride at the two-yard line as he powered his way into the end zone for the winner.
"It takes me back to college," Barkley said. "Kind of like it was in college, even though some games I didn't have great running games, I was able to impact the game in other ways. I feel like that's the type of player I am. I feel like I'm able to impact the game in multiple ways."
This was Barkley's only way to contribute most of the afternoon with Washington focused on the running game. He had minus-2 yards rushing until the final play of the third quarter. He eventually broke two long runs and finished with 83 yards on 14 carries.
Which begs the question: Why hasn't the struggling Giants offense with the league's 32nd-ranked passing attack used Barkley more as a receiver rather than simply a checkdown option? Barkley had five targets beyond 10 yards as a rookie and four in his second season. He had three last year and just one entering Sunday.
Even after the big game against Washington (four catches on five targets for 57 yards with two touchdowns), Barkley's 4.6 targets per game are the second lowest of his career. It's on par with his 4.8 targets per game last year in his first season under coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka.
It doesn't appear that the increased receiving production Sunday was game plan specific to exploit Barkley against the Washington linebackers and safeties. The Giants' receiving corps is depleted with tight end Darren Waller on injured reserve.
"Again, it was a timely call by Mike [Kafka]. We got the exact right look that we had practiced against for the last few weeks," Daboll said. "The first third-and-10, [Barkley] made a nice play on a loose scramble. Then down in the red zone, he's run that a fair amount, it's just a little cross, kind of flare-type route.
"So again, they were doing a good job of -- two ways you can get him involved, one in the pass game, one in the run game, so we try to use him the best we can. They were doing a good job of preventing some of these runs breaking out. Thought it would help to get him the ball in a couple different spots in the pass game."
It seemed to come at Barkley's urging.
"To be honest, when the run game ain't working like that, I just kept saying on the sidelines, I know the run game isn't working, 'Let me at least help! Let me at least try to get involved in the pass game.'
"They called a great play for me and Tommy gave me a great ball."
Barkley has four receiving touchdowns this season compared to one rushing, despite significantly fewer opportunities.
"Any way you can get it," Barkley said, "I'll take it."