Saquon Barkley was sitting on a stool in the locker room in Tampa, unable to stand. He had a boot on his right foot, crutches nearby, and a defiant tone in his voice.
"Whatever (the injury is), I promise you I'm coming back 10 times better," Barkley said back on Sept. 22. "I'm going to try and return as quickly as possible, whenever it is, to heal so I can get back to help my team compete. That's what I'm going to try to do."
The 22-year-old Barkley sounded hopeful for a quick return, but he also sounded a little naïve. He had a high ankle sprain. Multiple sources inside the Giants organization initially said he'd be out at least a month. By the next day, they were worried it might be two.
Ten days later, Barkley is back out on the field?
"I think his body was just made in a lab, I don't know," said tight end Evan Engram. "It was good to see. I'm glad everything is coming along recovery-wise."
It was more than good to see. It was an amazing and unexpected development, even if it's not completely clear what it all means just yet. The star running back was working on the side with trainers, which is a far cry from practicing on even a limited basis. He jogged and did some light front-to-back movement. He wasn't making any really violent cuts, nor was he anywhere near full-speed.
But the fact that he's even able to do that so soon after what appeared to be such a bad injury is absolutely an encouraging sign. Barkley's not going to play this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, and even the game the following Thursday in New England feels like a longshot.
But it does look like Barkley was right -- that he has a chance to come back sooner than anyone expected.
"Some doctors had him at eight weeks," said Giants head coach Pat Shurmur. "Not my doctors."
OK, well, that may be technically true. The initial word from team sources after the injury was that Barkley would miss a month, maybe more. After his MRI one day later, that timetable was upped by the same sources to six weeks, maybe more. There were reports that said the Giants expected him to need the full eight weeks, though the fact that they didn't put him on injured reserve always suggested they were expecting him back sooner than that.
Whatever the timetable, though, this feels like a fast return. But what a huge boost to the Giants an early return of Barkley would be.
Yes, the Giants obviously have done just fine without Barkley, who was injured with about three minutes left in the first half of that game in Tampa. They were trailing 18-10 at the time, and that would become a 28-10 deficit by halftime. Over the next six quarters, without Barkley, the Giants have outscored their opponents 46-6.
That's not because Barkley was out, of course. It's because the defense stepped up. It's because rookie quarterback Daniel Jones has been remarkable. It's also because Wayne Gallman proved to be an adequate replacement at running back with 118 total yards (63 rushing) on Sunday against the Redskins.
It's also because four of those quarters came against those Redskins. The Giants have done what they've needed to do -- they found a way to survive without their best player. That won't be nearly as easy to do facing two Top 6 defenses (Minnesota and New England) in the next eight days.
But what if Barkley can come back, and the defense and Jones keep playing as well as they are? They're already expecting to get a boost from the return of receiver Golden Tate on Sunday, fresh off his four-game suspension. Add Barkley to the mix in a few weeks -- assuming they can survive the next two -- and they might actually look like a legitimate contender.
Of course, they can't rush Barkley back with that in mind. Much like the dilemma the Jets are facing with quarterback Sam Darnold, they can't be seduced into bringing their best player back too soon. They need to keep the bigger picture, the long-term picture in mind.
"You know, obviously the sooner the better, but you've got to make sure your injuries are healed," Tate said. "Because when you come back too early, you kind of open yourself up to something bigger and a greater injury. We want him to take the time he needs and we'll try to hold it down as best we can."
That's the smart plan, of course, and that's likely the cautious path the Giants will take. Still, it's a tantalizing possibility that two months without Barkley might turn out to be far less than that. He said he'd come back quicker, and now that seems possible.
Imagine if he's right about coming back "10 times better," too.