By: Ian O’Connor for ESPN.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Odell Beckham Jr. had a scarlet welt growing between his right eye and ear, the apparent result of his lost sideline fight with a kicking net. It resembled a boxer’s mouse, actually, making it a good time to give the New York Giants receiver a history lesson in the bittersweet science.
Just because Jake LaMotta fought Sugar Ray Robinson six times doesn’t mean the two belonged in the same ring. In other words, Josh Norman is a very good football player. But Josh Norman also has no chance to ever be as good a football player as Odell Beckham Jr.
OBJ feared he’d be tossed after interference call
Odell Beckham Jr., who was given a pregame warning by refs on how they expected he and Redskins CB Josh Norman to behave, thought he’d be tossed after being penalized late for OPI on an INT play.
Giants have no one to blame but themselves for missed opportunity vs. Redskins
The Giants couldn’t overcome all its mistakes — missed tackles, penalties and turnovers — in a 29-27 loss to the Redskins.
On Sunday afternoon in MetLife Stadium, Norman honored his chief responsibility by keeping his opponent out of the end zone and helping the Washington Redskins to a desperately needed 29-27 victory. Of course, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Beckham was so wide open that he could have moonwalked into the end zone for a 75-yard score had Eli Manning only seen him on the left side with his arm up, signaling for the ball.
Manning instead threw to Sterling Shepard, and Norman ended up committing a personal foul on the play, the only unsportsmanlike penalty called between the cornerback and receiver who combined for five last season in their Giants-Panthers steel-cage match. Beckham’s most flagrant offense on this day came when he responded to a brutal Manning interception by angrily swinging his helmet into that kicking net, which punched back by hitting Beckham’s face with its crossbar.
“I don’t remember,” Beckham said when asked how he got the resulting scratch.
He didn’t remember a lot of things as he addressed reporters at his locker, including his sideline tantrum, whether he indeed started crying during the tantrum, and whether he felt Norman deserved to be flagged when the Giants scored their first touchdown on Shane Vereen’s 1-yard run in the opening quarter. On that play, Beckham leaped deceptively as if going for a jump ball, inspiring a confused Norman to grab him in the air, carry him six steps and then drop him gently to the ground in front of an official, while raising his arms in I-didn’t-do-anything form.
The only meaningful thing Beckham claimed to remember was the warning officials gave him before the game.
“Yeah, they implemented a new rule this year,” he said. “It’s basically the Odell Beckham Jr. rule. I had three personal fouls last year so … today they came up before the game and said, ‘If you do anything, we’re throwing you out of the game.’ And that was before the game. There was no, ‘You get a warning.’ There was no any of that.
“So you’ve just got to be on your best behavior. Unfortunately, that’s what it’s come to. It’s not really football anymore as much as it is all the other things that play into it.”
Odell Beckham Jr. had seven receptions for 121 yards in a Giants’ loss against Washington on Sunday. Elsa/Getty Images
But here’s the one thing above all that Beckham needs to take away from this rematch with Norman: He can’t ever look at these Giants-Redskins games to come as anything outside the norm of a divisional duel that could make or break a team’s season. In 2007, the 0-2 Giants made a late and improbable goal-line stand at Washington to salvage their season and ultimately win the Super Bowl. Could the 2016 Redskins use Su’a Cravens’ late and improbable interception of Manning to turn an 0-2 start into a season to remember? Hey, crazier NFL things have happened.
So Beckham has to rise above the Norman rivalry for those team-centric reasons — and for the simple fact that Norman isn’t his caliber of athlete. At age 23, Beckham is already the most explosive offensive player the Giants have dressed in more than 90 years of competition. He has the talent to supplant Antonio Brown as the league’s top receiver and to join Jerry Rice and Randy Moss among the all-time greats.
With 107 of his 121 receiving yards on Sunday coming at Norman’s expense, Beckham cleared 3,000 career receiving yards in his 30th game, something no receiver dead or alive had accomplished. He also reached 200 career receptions faster than anyone before him. Though he didn’t score against Washington, Beckham is averaging .833 touchdowns per game; Rice averaged .660 and Moss .712 across the regular season and postseason. Meanwhile, Norman doesn’t rate the same way historically. He has seven interceptions in 61 regular-season and postseason games, an average of one per 8.57 games. Darrelle Revis, the cornerback he replaced as the NFL’s best, has averaged an interception every 4.42 regular-season and postseason games, and Deion Sanders, the presumed best corner ever, averaged a pick every 3.45 games.
This is why Beckham was quoted in GQ over the summer as saying that Norman made “a smart business move” in taking the $75 million deal with Washington and booking twice-a-year matchups with the Giants. Beckham said he had made mistakes in “bringing people to your level who don’t deserve to be there. They’re trying to bite off your so-called fame, make a name off you.” Though Norman deserves more credit than that — he was essentially fired by Carolina — it is true that the corner has a lot more to gain from the continuation of this feud than the receiver who lost his cool near the bench this time, and not on the field.
Giants rookie coach Ben McAdoo tried talking to his ranting (and crying?) receiver, and so did Manning.
“I was trying to figure out what was going on, why he was getting frustrated,” the quarterback said. “He was getting catches. He was making plays and we just need everybody to stay calm. We don’t need to get rattled. We don’t need to get fired up. You can get excited, celebrate with your teammates. But we just need to do a better job offensively, everybody, to stay calm and stay in our rhythm.”
For Manning, this is about as close to a public rebuke of a teammate as he’ll get. He watched Beckham slam his helmet into the ground after a loss to San Francisco two years ago, and he watched him melt down against Norman’s Panthers last season, a performance that did nothing to help former Giants coach Tom Coughlin keep his job. ESPN confirmed a report that Beckham was fined $36,000 for delivering a blind crackback block last week on the Saints’ Kenny Vaccaro.
Sunday’s rematch between Beckham and Redskins cornerback Josh Norman was highly anticipated after last year’s fireworks. AP Photo/Kathy Willens
Clearly, Beckham is struggling to funnel his passion into positive thoughts and actions.
“If I was you, you, you, you, any of you,” he said to reporters, “and we’re playing pinball and your score is 36,000, I want 36,001. It doesn’t matter who it is. I love to compete and I hate losing.
“Today, I think we did a great job in making it a lot about football, even though there were a lot of outside implications that went on that predetermined the matchup before it happened — instead of letting us play football, which we’ve been doing all of our lives.”
Given the officials’ pregame lecture, Beckham said he was surprised he wasn’t ejected when called for offensive pass interference on his team’s final drive. As it turned out, after Beckham started making one-handed catches and sideline spin moves and stiff-arms that left Norman in his dust earlier in the fourth quarter, center Weston Richburg was the one Giant to get tossed for taunting, a foolish breakdown that did no favors for the line.
Norman said the officials had also warned him not to make “a mockery of the game,” and despite his personal foul, he heeded those words. He met with the Giants receiver on the field afterward in a mutual (if temporary) show of respect.
“We’re just two fierce competitors, that’s all it is,” Beckham said. “We love football. We feel like this has turned into something that is not football.”
Truth is, Norman and Beckham are more responsible than the media for starting and extending this sideshow, and it’s on Beckham to stop it. He’s five years younger than Norman, more gifted than Norman and headed places Norman’s never going to reach.
As he left the building Sunday evening wearing headphones and his boxer’s welt, Beckham should have remembered that a beautiful fighter never lets a lesser man trap him against the ropes.