EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The reality hit Saquon Barkley when the medical staff gathered around an injured Tyrod Taylor near the 40-yard line in front of the New York Giants' bench.
Daniel Jones had left the game with an ankle injury early in the fourth quarter, and now Taylor was down on the MetLife Stadium turf following a devastating hit from Bears cornerback Kyler Gordon. The Giants were clinging to a five-point lead with just over eight minutes to go and their only other quarterback on the roster, Davis Webb, was in street clothes as a member of the practice squad.
"When Tyrod went down, I kind of realized, oh, I'm up next," Barkley said. "I'm the quarterback."
Just as he's done all season to this point, Barkley stepped up and stepped in, delivering at running back, at Wildcat quarterback in a pinch and leading the offense to help close out the Bears in Sunday's 20-12 victory.
NFL NEWSLETTER: Sign up now for exclusive content sent to your inbox
This is the best start for the Giants (3-1) since 2009 when Big Blue won their first five games under Tom Coughlin prior to a four-game losing streak and ultimately an 8-8 record.
Barkley rushed for 146 yards on 31 carries, and that included direct snaps on three pivotal plays that set up Graham Gano's 43-yard field goal for the winning margin with 5:31 remaining in the fourth quarter. Jones was on the field for those plays, too, but only to get the play call from Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka in the booth upstairs and relay that to the huddle, including Barkley as quarterback and center Jon Feliciano, whose responsibility it is to get the protection and blocking calls to the rest of the offensive line.
Jones split out wide left and Barkley lined up in the backfield with Matt Breida to his left and Gary Brightwell to his right. It was Barkley's job to run the option, reading his keys from the defensive line and deciding whether to give the ball to Breida, which he did twice for 14 yards, including a huge 13-yard gain, or to keep the ball, which he did once for four yards.
Each time Barkley took the direct snap, Jones barked out the play call from Kafka and then went out to receiver, away from the action in order to protect his ankle.
"First of all, you've got to give credit to DJ for coming back in the game. He's - I can't curse - he's a tough you-know-what," Barkley said. "Nothing but respect for him to continue to fight through that for this team ... I just tried my best to read [the defense], it's really not that hard, I guess, I think I made the right reads on them. But we were able to keep the ball moving, get the ball downfield, get some points and defense did a great job from there."
The Giants will turn their focus to this week's trip to London, where they will face the Green Bay Packers, and the question moving forward will undoubtedly be centered around who will play quarterback.
Jones will undergo further testing on his ankle, and he would not rule out the suggestion that he could return to action as soon as next Sunday. But that remains to be seen. Taylor was indeed diagnosed with a concussion after further evaluation, the Giants confirmed, and he was placed in the protocol which puts his availability in doubt.
Webb will likely be elevated from the practice squad in that case, and there's a probability that the Giants will consider using more of the package that featured Barkley, Breida and Brightwell together, especially when the entire running game operation clicks the way it did against Chicago for 262 total rushing yards on 44 carries.
Another option for the Giants could be to consider other quarterbacks on opposing practice squads, and one name stands out - the Bills' Matt Barkley, who was there for three years in Buffalo when Brian Daboll was offensive coordinator.
Still, everything that mattered to the Giants on Sunday goes back to the moments Taylor was being checked on by the medical team. Instead of standing around watching, Daboll said he grabbed a white board - he wanted a marker and not a tablet, despite being offered five at the time - and they drew up the best plan given the circumstances.
"We talked about a few things, but we had things that were already in the game plan," Daboll said. "So, it’s just a matter of, ‘Let’s go to three-back personnel’ that they haven’t seen all game and run one of our plays from our – it’s not the wing T – but the three guys in alignment, and let’s use that. If it works, let’s come back to it."
The Giants went back to Jones at quarterback on their final offensive series, if only to protect him. They put the football in the hands of a player who has carried them in four games, and did what was needed to be done in order to pick up their third win in four games.
"Like you were eight years old, playing with your friends on Sunday," Barkley said. "You’re just drawing it up: 'I’m the quarterback, this is what we are going to do, this is how we’re going to do it,' and we got to some of it. But the defense stepped up big for us, and we were able to get the gritty runs and find a way to get a win."
Added Giants left tackle Andrew Thomas: "It was a big win to get to 3-1, and everybody had a job to do."
And the Giants were able to get it done, in part because they asked their best offensive player to take on one more job that he had essentially never played before.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Giants' Saquon Barkley plays QB as Daniel Jones, Tyrod Taylor injured