Saquon Barkley’s motivated response to Tiki Barber’s ‘challenge’

No one lights a fire under Giants stars quite like Tiki Barber.

Barber’s criticism of Saquon Barkley’s failures in pass protection and description of Barkley as “a big back who wants to play small” on CBS Sports Radio’s “Tiki and Tierney” struck a nerve because it was one great Giants running back talking about another. Barkley’s response?

“Obviously, Tiki is a legend,” Barkley said. “He has done a lot of great things for this franchise. I’m not going to look at it as disrespect. I’m going to look at it as a challenge.”

It’s exactly the way Barber said Barkley should respond when he clarified his comments to The Post earlier this week, but it was no certainty to predict. Barkley hasn’t faced much, if any, criticism in his first two seasons as one of the NFL’s best players.

Rushing for 6 yards on 15 carries against the Steelers and whiffing on a few blocks changed that narrative. Armchair running backs emerged everywhere.

“To be completely honest, the reason it doesn’t bother me is — no disrespect to anyone on this [media] call or anyone outside this — I truly don’t care about other people’s opinions,” Barkley said in a rare moment on the defensive.

Saquon Barkley; Tiki BarberGetty Images (2)

“I know you can ask my teammates, you can ask anyone in this building, they won’t question my toughness. It’s easy to be an All-Pro clicker and to be able to watch stuff on film and say, ‘Oh, he should have done this, he should have done that,’ or, ‘He can improve on that.’ That’s the easy way.”

Barkley has singled out pass protection as his own point of emphasis for rounding out what is often described as a “generational” skill set.

“I know the theme of this media session is going to be about my pass pro,” Barkley said. “I understand that I probably made some mistakes in pass pro, and I put it on film. I know people are going to keep challenging me. It’s a good way to stop me from getting to open space and making plays [as a receiver], too. I just have to keep working at it, keep getting better.”

Barkley said he has not heard from Barber this week, but he considers voicing an opinion to be a “God-given right.” For some Giants fans, however, this moment is reminiscent of when a retired Barber criticized Eli Manning’s “comical” leadership in 2007.

Manning finished that season by winning Super Bowl MVP, and Barber has maintained those words were misinterpreted. Barber and Barkley built a relationship formed over dinner at Rao’s, and Barber hopes Barkley surpasses him as the Giants’ all-time leading rusher.

“I’m always going to be my biggest critic,” Barkley said.