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Why Saquon Barkley’s acupuncture therapist might be a hidden Giants MVP

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The first time Saquon Barkley considered undergoing acupuncture, he was more than a bit squeamish.

“I was a baby,” Barkley told The Post.

He overcame his trepidation, though, and came away pleased with his first treatment. This was back in 2018, Barkley’s rookie year, and he has been a proponent of the traditional Chinese medicine ever since.

“I think it just helps with releasing the muscle and just helping me feel better,” Barkley said. “Some people like acupuncture, some people don’t; some people like cupping [therapy], some people don’t. Everyone has different methods they like, and for me personally, especially these last couple years, trying everything to get my body back.”

Blessed with a body that looks indestructible, Barkley has proven to be vulnerable ever since his outstanding Giants debut, when he was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. That season, he was on the field for 83 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Over the next three, his snap participation dropped to 68.3 percent in 2019, 6.6 percent in 2020 (when he tore his ACL in Week 2) and 46.6 percent in 2021. He has agonized over these absences and racked his brain trying to figure out why all the work he has put in did not lead to greater durability.

After playing in all 16 games as a rookie, Saquon Barkley has been in and out of the lineup due to injuries the past three seasons.
Robert Sabo

Away from the Giants and their medical and training staff, Barkley pays massage therapists, his acupuncturist, trainers and physical therapists, all of whom comprise a health team he has employed to try to keep him hale and hearty. He is entering the final year of his contract, and his staying on the Giants roster into 2023 depends on his ability to stay on the field and produce.

“I put a lot of investment into my body, so hopefully it will all pay off,” Barkley said.

Part of that is embracing a practice he was told could fine-tune his body, but left him anxious at first.

“It is funny,” Barkley recalled. “Me and my acupuncture lady Jen, we laugh because the first time I ever did acupuncture, I was a baby. I didn’t want no needles going inside me. Now it’s like I’m so used to it, I’m numb to it.”

Acupuncture involves the insertion of tiny needles into the skin at strategic places in the body. It is used to treat pain, but also has proven to be beneficial to soothe muscles and relieve stress. Traditional Chinese medicine also holds that acupuncture can balance the flow of energy in the body. A more scientific view: Acupuncture can stimulate nerves and connective tissue.

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) watches running back Saquon Barkley (26) make a run at practice, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022, in East Rutherford, NJ.
Healthy after an offseason of training and acupuncture treatments, Barkley has looked quick and durable in the first few weeks of training camp.
Corey Sipkin

“It’s just specifically to the area of the body that you want,” Barkley said. “Sometimes, especially during camp. you’re going to have some soreness in places. Knee, ankle, you can do shoulders, you can do wherever. Some people get it in their foreheads. I don’t do all that crazy stuff.

“It doesn’t hurt. The needle is so small, you don’t feel it. But you psych yourself out in the beginning. Now I still [grimace] a little bit, but I’m numb to it. All depends on the week, the grind, the type of work I put in. I usually do it once or twice a week.”

Thus far this summer, Barkley has given the Giants reason to believe all of his efforts will keep him on the field. He has not missed any action in training camp, and he looks spry, prompting head coach Brian Daboll to describe Barkley as “explosive.”’ The 25-year-old appears thrilled to be grinding the days away in training camp, rather than watching from the side or having his workload restricted and evaluated on a day-to-day basis. On Sunday, he took a pounding in a practice session devoted to live run-blocking and rushing, yet emerged with nothing but routine soreness. A day later, Barkley looked especially frisky as he leveled cornerback Aaron Robinson, setting in motion some hostile vibes that led to the most heated scuffle of camp.

The Giants hope this season, at long last, Barkley will be able to withstand the physical grind, with the help of all of his  away-from-the facility regimens, even those rooted in ancient medicine.

No passing fancy

New York Giants wide receiver Kadarius Tomey (89) speaks with wide receivers coach Mike Groh, left, between drills during training camp at the NFL football team's practice facility, Friday, July 29, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J.
Receivers coach Mike Groh doesn’t see the Giants’ new offense as offering freedom to receivers to run their routes, but more providing options to react to opposing defenses.
AP

Assistant coaches are not made available for interviews often, but when they are, they most usually offer a wealth of information. Such was the case when The Post got a chance to speak with Mike Groh, the Giants’ wide receivers coach, who was asked to expand on the revelation from many of his players that this new offense, designed by Daboll, allows the receivers far more freedom than what was taught in the past with the previous coaching staff.

“I can’t,” Groh said Tuesday, “because I don’t know what that means.

“I feel like [the notion that receivers have more freedom has] gotten overblown. This is a very successful system that’s proven in the NFL. We have option routes in this offense, just like every other team in the NFL. We’re not doing something here that Dabes has never done before or any of these guys have ever been asked to do if they’ve been in another system, in terms of option routes and being able to work off leverage of defenders.”

Hmm. Was it not just the other day when several Giants receivers who were with the team in 2021 were reveling in what they described as a brand-new approach? Darius Slayton said, “Some systems want you to run a straight line and stop at 10 yards — and that’s what you have to do,” stressing that is not the case with this new offense.

It is true that every NFL offense has some option routes, allowing the receiver to adjust, or convert, his route depending on the coverage presented by the opposing defense. It is also true that the system put in place by Jason Garrett the past two years was more structured, in terms of rules for the wide receivers.

Daboll’s system, in contrast, is heavy on pre-snap motion, asking the quarterback and receiver to read the play and react to it in concert with each other. So while there is more freedom for the receivers, Groh has a point in that the system is not a free-for-all.

New York Giants Kadarius Toney runs the ball at training camp, Friday, July 29, 2022, in East Rutherford, NJ.
Kadarius Toney and his fellow Giants receivers are getting used to the “option routes” in Brian Daboll’s offense.
Corey Sipkin

Kadarius Toney described the differences he’s noticed: “You don’t have to run the pen-and-paper version of your route. It’s not set in stone, like, no matter which way the cornerback is playing you have to run that route.”

Asked if Toney’s description more accurately described the new offense, Groh still demurred.

“I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that,” Groh said. “This is a system, you’ve seen this system in action, had a lot of success in Buffalo and other places. We have some freedom on option routes and things like that, but we’re gonna work off leverage of defenders. We try to give these guys tools to win versus man coverage, and maybe that might be what they’re speaking of, in terms of having available tools in their toolbox to help them win and get open and separate.

“There are specific calls within the framework of the offense that would allow or facilitate option routes.”

So, to hear Groh tell it, perhaps not quite the rampant freedom many of the players would have us believe.

Asked and answered

Here are two questions that have come up recently that we will attempt to answer as accurately as possible:

Mike Kafka, the new offensive coordinator, said he believes there is a “correlation” between having success as a coordinator and a play-caller and being a former quarterback “because as a quarterback, you’re playing the game kind of the same way through the eyes of a coordinator.” Is there any validity to this?

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones speaking with Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, during practice at the Giants training facility in East Rutherford, New Jersey. -
Mike Kafka’s experience playing quarterback at Northwestern and briefly in the NFL could be a valuable resource for Daniel Jones.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

It certainly sounds plausible. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, considered one of the the top play-callers in the NFL, was an offensive lineman. Kyle Shanahan of the 49ers, another elite play-caller, was a wide receiver. A quality play-caller can come from anywhere, though quarterback is definitely a good place to look. The highly regarded Ken Dorsey, who takes over from Daboll as the Bills’ play-caller, was a quarterback. Kellen Moore of the Cowboys was a quarterback. Byron Leftwich of the Buccaneers was a quarterback. And yes, Kafka was a quarterback who kicked around the NFL for parts of six years.

It seems as if every few days we hear about workouts going on behind closed doors inside the team field house. What goes on in these workouts?

New York Giants offensive line coach Bobby Johnson speaks to the media at practice Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, in East Rutherford, NJ.
Bobby Johnson has been busy getting to know and coach the Giants’ current offensive linemen while also helping the team mine for more talent.
Corey Sipkin

The roster is never set. Ever. The front office needs information on as many players as possible, and sometimes that is all that is going on with these workouts. Bring in a handful of guys for updated medical evaluations to have the most up-to-date data in the team files. Often the workout is specific in nature. If the Giants are especially thin on the offensive line — as has been the case recently — they will invite several offensive linemen for a workout/tryout. Members of the front office and Bobby Johnson, the offensive line coach, will take a look-see. This past Monday, the Giants did just that in working out Vadal Alexander and Brayden Patton, two offensive linemen who played for the Pittsburgh Maulers in the USFL. A similar pattern is followed with every position group. When the position of safety was depleted, Andrew Adams, a former Giants player, came in on a Monday and was signed a day later. That same Monday, veteran tight end Eric Ebron was also in the field house for a tryout. He was not signed, but the Giants gleaned valuable information on him.

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United States vs. Netherlands prediction: World Cup picks, odds

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The United States men’s national team has a golden opportunity on Saturday morning in the World Cup. With the entire country behind them, the Yanks could qualify for the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002. 

Team USA is an underdog against the Netherlands (they’re +375 to win), but the Americans relish the role of being outsiders going up against a very vulnerable favorite. 

As we saw against Wales and Iran, the USMNT can struggle to break down defensive teams. The Yanks are an athletic, creative and quick team, but they’re not all that comfortable in possession. Against Wales and Iran, they dominated possession and struggled to break through enough times to feel comfortable. 

U.S. vs. Netherlands pick: U.S. +375 (PointsBet)

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But against England — easily its best performance of the tournament — the USMNT was able to use its athleticism, team speed and talent to give the Three Lions a lot to think about. England tore through both Iran and Wales, but struggled mightily against the Americans because it couldn’t dominate the midfield. 

Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie have turned into one of the best midfield trios in the tournament. Their ability to make life difficult on opposing midfielders is a huge factor against a Dutch midfield that should be terrific on paper, but has struggled through the first three matches. 

Betting on the World Cup?

In fact, outside of Cody Gakpo, you could say that about the entire Netherlands team. Even though they won Group A with two wins and a draw, Clockwork Oranje have been relatively disappointing compared to their pretournament expectations. 

Drawn into a soft group with Qatar, Ecuador and Senegal, the Netherlands posted a +4 goal differential, but its expected goal difference was -0.4 and it was -1.8 before its 2-0 victory against Qatar on Tuesday. In other words, the Netherlands was a bit fortunate to post the results it did. 

Christian Pulisic of United States
Christian Pulisic of United States
Getty Images

That doesn’t mean that the Dutch can’t grow into this tournament. The history of the World Cup is littered with teams that started slowly and went on to do big things, so there’s no reason to count them out just yet. 

That said, it’s also hard to feel confident about backing them as an odds-on favorite against a team that punches up in competition very well. England is a stronger team than the Netherlands, with a better midfield, and the USMNT gave it fits in a nil-nil draw. 

Winning the battle in the midfield would give the USMNT a serious chance to win this match, and it’s a fair argument to make that the Yanks have the edge in the middle of the field with Adams, Musah and McKennie going up against some combination of Frenkie de Jong, Davy Klaassen, Teun Koopmeiners and Marten de Roon. 

The Netherlands may have advantages in other parts of the pitch, and the U.S. defense has looked a bit vulnerable at times against less talented attacks than the Clockwork Oranje, but the Dutch, aside from Gakpo, just haven’t really looked all that threatening. The Netherlands only created 0.8 expected goals against Senegal and Ecuador. 

Sportsbooks around the country will be a little tepid about how they price the USA, given how much money will come in on the Yanks, but this number is still well worth a bet on a team that profiles extremely well as an underdog. 

U.S. vs. Netherlands pick: U.S.A. +375 (PointsBet)

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Luka Doncic latest superstar the Knicks have to deal with

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At some point, the Knicks are going to have to beat a superstar if they want to reach the postseason, and they will get another chance on Saturday afternoon.

The Mavericks and Luka Doncic, the NBA’s leading scorer, will visit the Garden for a matinee, giving coach Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks another chance against one of the league’s top players. So far, the Knicks have lost to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks (twice), Stephen Curry and the Warriors, Ja Morant and the Grizzlies (twice), Kevin Durant and the Nets, Jayson Tatum and the Celtics and Donovan Mitchell and the Cavaliers.

The closest they have come to knocking off a top-flight star was when they beat Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves. The Knicks did nearly defeat Morant and Antetokounmpo in the past week at the Garden, but lost to the Grizzlies and the Bucks by a combined 10 points.

Doncic, 23, has become one of the premier players in the sport. He is averaging 33.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and 8.7 assists while shooting a robust 50.5 percent from the field. He leads the league in player efficiency rating at 32.18 and already has five 40-point games.

Luka Doncic
AP

He will be a major test for the Knicks’ top perimeter defenders, RJ Barrett and Quentin Grimes. They did a good job on him last year in a season sweep of the Mavericks, holding Doncic to 20-of-48 shooting and an average of 26 points in the two games.


The Knicks will be looking to snap a three-game losing streak at the Garden and hoping to improve upon one of the worst home marks in the Eastern Conference. Only the Hornets, with three, have fewer home wins than the Kncisk, who are 4-6 at the Garden. On the road, the Knicks have been much better, with six wins, second in the Eastern Conference to the Celtics’ seven.

“I just think that we have to bring our same road intensity back home,” Jalen Brunson said. “At home, we’re obviously more comfortable and all that. On the road, it’s just us on the road, it’s us and the hostile environment. I think we just got to bring that same mentality at home and finish games.”

The Knicks have lost their last three games at home, to the Trail Blazers, Grizzlies and Bucks, by a combined 13 points.


Former Knick Kemba Walker, who signed this week with Dallas, isn’t expected to play for the Mavericks until the middle of next week, general manager Nico Harrison said on Dallas radio station KTCK-The Ticket. Walker was traded by the Knicks on draft night to the Pistons to free up salary cap space to sign Brunson, and Detroit later bought him out. … The Knicks’ Ryan Arcidiacono (sprained left ankle) didn’t practice on Friday.


With the Mavericks in town, Thibodeau was asked about the NBA’s ongoing tampering investigation regarding the Knicks’ pursuit and acquisition of Brunson.

“At the appropriate time, I think [president] Leon [Rose] will make a statement. But let everyone do their job,” Thibodeau said. “So, that’s the way we’re approaching it. We feel very good about the way we went about things.”

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Pulisic Is Mending but Still Uncertain for Next U.S. Game

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DOHA, Qatar — Christian Pulisic was happy to talk about what happened leading up to the goal he scored on Tuesday that carried the United States into the round of 16 at the World Cup.

He was happy to talk about the ride to the hospital after colliding with Iran’s goalkeeper, about how during that journey he followed the rest of the game on a trainer’s cellphone, and about the chances — still not 100 percent, he said — that he would be available to play when the United States faces the Netherlands on Saturday.

What he was far less comfortable talking about, as he stared out into the faces of at least 100 journalists, were the details of where he had been injured. U.S. Soccer has labeled Pulisic’s injury a “pelvic contusion.” Asked by a reporter to clarify what that meant, Pulisic took a long pause.

“I mean,” he said, “it’s a pelvic contusion, you know?”

The specifics hardly matter. What does matter, at least for the United States, is that Pulisic admitted he was not sure he would be physically capable of going through a full training session with his teammates Thursday, 48 hours before they play the biggest game of their lives.

Pulisic’s problem, basically, is that the shot he took in the collision while scoring in Tuesday’s 1-0 victory had affected his ability to do his job. A soccer player’s hips, and especially any of the muscles and tendons and tissue that support them, do vital and interconnected work in assisting movement, turning and sprinting. Pulisic seemed to admit that, at least as of Thursday, he was not sure he had recovered sufficiently to be able to perform at the level he knows will be required on Saturday.

“I’m going to go now and meet with the team and the medical staff and make a decision on today, just kind of see how I’m feeling,” he said in his first public comments since the injury. “Taking it day by day for now, but doing everything in my power to be able to be out there on the field on Saturday.”

It had been excruciating, he admitted, to leave the game after scoring. Pulisic had lain on the field for several minutes after scoring, then needed assistance to get to his feet and remain standing. After a few minutes, he returned to the game, but minutes after that, the halftime whistle blew and he was gone down the stadium tunnel.

When his team returned to the field for the second half, Pulisic was missing, replaced by his teammate Brenden Aaronson.

“Obviously the emotions were running so high, so I was doing everything I could to continue playing,” Pulisic said of his brief return to the game. “It was all kind of a blur, to be honest.”

After an assessment of his condition was made at halftime, he said, the U.S. Soccer medical staff determined he needed to go to a hospital for scans to determine the full nature of his injury. A team trainer, Harris Patel, went along; on the way, Patel called up a video feed of the game on his phone so he and Pulisic could watch what they were missing.

“It was the hardest thing,” Pulisic said. “I think they were checking my blood sugar and everything, and it was flying through the roof, but it wasn’t because of anything — it was just me stress-watching the game. Once I got through that, and the final whistle blew, I was very happy.”

Saturday’s game would be a difficult one to miss. The United States has not played a knockout game at the World Cup since 2014, and the current team represents a new generation of players who have high hopes not only for this tournament, but for the World Cup that will take place in the United States, Canada and Mexico in 2026.

Pulisic already has one good memory from this year’s tournament — and one excruciating one. But as he sat alongside his teammate Timothy Weah, who has scored the Americans’ only other goal in Qatar, in the team’s opening game against Wales, Pulisic said they still felt they had a long way to go.

“It feels great to score in a World Cup,” Pulisic said when asked if he had enjoyed his special moment of the tournament already. “Timmy knows what that’s like. I’m hoping I haven’t had that moment yet. I’m hoping it’s in front of me.”

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