TAMPA -- Daniel Jones lit a spark under the Giants on Sunday night, and brought a sense of hope and optimism the organization hasn't felt in years.
But the sight of Saquon Barkley on crutches, with a walking boot on his right ankle, was enough to wipe all of those good vibes away.
Barkley, the Giants' best player and one of the most prolific running backs in the NFL, suffered what a source confirmed is a high ankle sprain in the second quarter of the Giants' 32-31. That's not a one-week injury. In fact, the recovery time for that is often more than a month. He'll know more after he undergoes an MRI on Monday.
It's safe to say, though, the Giants will be without Barkley for a while.
That didn't really hurt them in the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon. The Giants were down 18-10 when Barkley got hurt in the second quarter. They would trail 28-10 at the half. And obviously, thanks to Jones' heroics -- 336 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns, anda game-winning fourth-quarter drive -- the Giants were still able to pull the game out.
But what happened in the second half did offer at least a glimpse of what life will be like for the Giants without Barkley. And it's not going to be easy.
Perhaps the most significant and obvious change -- and challenge -- was evident in the way the Bucs played the Giants in the second half. In the first half, the strategy from Bruce Arians and his defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles, was obvious. They were going to load the line of scrimmage and stop Barkley and dare the Giants to win with Jones. It worked, too. Barkley had 10 yards on eight carries and the offense wasn't exactly moving under Jones' direction.
In the second half, though, they came after Jones. Four of the Bucs' five sacks came in the second half. Jones was forced into two fumbles. He took some absolutely enormous hits, and was forced out of the pocket probably a little more than he liked.
His escapability and mobility saved him and the Giants. But it won't always be that smooth. Defenses are unlikely to show much respect for Barkley's replacement, Wayne Gallman (five carries, 13 yards). Those pass rushers are now going to be coming after Jones from the start.
Now, maybe Jones can handle that. He was 11 of 17 for 213 yards in the second half. But heavy blitzes are usually what causes the most problems for rookie quarterbacks. With Barkley there, Jones was going to be shielded from some of that. There'll be no hiding for him now.
Not only that, Jones is going to have to do more. The plan all season, according to Pat Shurmur, has been to run the Giants' offense through Barkley. They wanted to run him as much as possible and feature him in the passing game. They can't do either of those things with Gallman, a solid third-year backup who has 695 career rushing yards and 52 career catches for 306 yards.
He's not a weapon -- certainly not one that's going to draw the attention of opposingdefenses. That means more defenders will be able to drop into coverage when they're not blitzing, so it could hurt Jones' targets, too.
So basically, with Barkley out, Jones will have to do more with less, with a lot more pressure in his face, and probably a lot more from outside the pocket. The Giants can't just replace Barkley. They can't really change their offense. All they can do is hope that either Gallman can give them much more than expected, or that Jones can be just as dazzling in a situation, going forward, that is almost unfair.
The good news is that Barkley insisted, "I'm not out for the season." He also said he had a high ankle sprain as a freshman at Penn State and only missed two weeks. Every sprain is different, and the Giants have their fingers crossed for good news out of his MRI on Monday. But a one month absence seems likely, and they'll have to really pray that it doesn't become two.
Because despite the euphoria over Jones' first start, this is still an undermanned Giants offense, and it will be even when receiver Golden Tate returns from his suspension in two weeks. They're not good enough or deep enough for a weapon like Barkley to be plucked out of their offense.
Maybe Jones can lead them through that. But for a rookie quarterback with one starton his resume, that feels like it's just way too much to ask.