Odell Beckham Jr. again shows why he's worth the headaches

ByIan O'Connor ESPN logo
Monday, December 12, 2016

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Odell Beckham Jr. had dropped a touchdown pass and another pass that could have led to a touchdown after he barely scrambled in time to recover his own fumble off a punt. In other words, against the Dallas Cowboys, he was primed for a prime-time meltdown that would have endangered a full supply of sideline kicking nets.

Like most artists, Beckham is something of an odd duck (see that subsequent marriage proposal to the assailed net in October). He lives his football life on the edge, creating magical moments on one possession and threatening to blow up a week's worth of his team's work on the next.

But the New York Giants have been in the pro football business for more than 90 years, and they've never had an offensive player like him. Never. If you're measuring by physical talent and physical talent alone, Beckham is the best Giant since Lawrence Taylor.

So you need to understand this: Just as the franchise put up with Taylor's considerable off-the-field downside for a reason (opponents couldn't block him), it will put up with Beckham's on-the-field downside for a reason no less obvious (opponents can't cover him). On Sunday night, when Eli Manning appeared about as comfortable and poised as a bloodied Y.A. Tittle on his knees, the Giants were in desperate need of one transcendent play from someone who plays offense for a living.

Beckham made that play in this 10-7 victory, and it might ultimately put the Giants in the postseason for the first time since they won it all five years ago. They beat Dallas on a Sunday night to close out that 2011 regular season and qualify for the tournament, but that was then, and this is most definitely now. Given that Manning and his rookie coach, Ben McAdoo, were looking completely lost in their own building, Beckham was the lone Giant capable of seizing this game.

The home team's defense had done all it could against Dak Prescott, the newbie the Giants defeated on opening night in September, back when people thought the Cowboys quarterback was little more than a promising fourth-round pick. Prescott had since won 11 consecutive games, taking Tony Romo's job while taking the league by the throat, yet the Giants' defense had reduced him to an amateur-hour act for much of this rematch.

"This is a championship defense," Beckham said.

It wasn't going to matter if the Giants couldn't do anything about their 7-3 deficit. Beckham entered MetLife Stadium hellbent on making a difference. He hadn't scored a touchdown in two of his previous three games, including last week's loss at Pittsburgh, where he seemed to spend a little too much time enjoying Antonio Brown's friendship and skills.

Then Beckham had a little conversation with the man in his mirror. He said he told himself, "You need to wake up. I don't know what's going on with you, but you need to wake up. You're on autopilot. You're not out there affecting this game. You're not really doing anything."

The lack of production, Beckham said, "eats me up. It just kills me to be able to come out here and not do what you're supposed to be doing. I just had to talk to myself. I talked to the man above and said, 'Wake me up. It's time to wake up.' And sure enough, we came to life."

Or at least Beckham did. Late in the third quarter, two plays after Prescott threw a dreadful interception, the receiver lined up wide left at the Giants' 39 and ran a quick slant. Manning hit him in stride, and Beckham found a seam and exploded into the clear with Brandon Carr in pursuit. Carr is the cornerback who was burned on Beckham's signature three-fingered catch two years ago, the absurd reception that made the Giant an international star.

Beckham loves competing against Carr, the kind of bigger, stronger cornerback who was supposed to give the receiver problems -- at least according to some pre-draft scouting reports. In the race to the end zone, Beckham felt Carr on top of him, "running as fast as I've ever felt somebody chasing me. I had to hit another gear."

He hit that gear, pushing his hamstrings to the max. Carr couldn't catch him. Nobody can catch Odell Beckham Jr.

"Any time he touches the ball," Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkinssaid, "you never know what might happen."

Victor Cruz said of his teammate's breakaway burst: "It's amazing. To have that speed, to catch the ball and turn it on that quickly, it's rare, not just in this league but in life."

Beckham celebrated his 61-yard touchdown with a Michael Jackson leg kick and moonwalk and then a royal coronation-style wave to the fans. The entertainment was needed in the worst way; the Giants and Cowboys combined to convert a grand total of three third-down chances in 29 attempts.

Yes, this game was awfully tough on the eyes. The Cowboys might have left the building with reason to be concerned about a possible playoff matchup with the Giants, who ruined Dallas' 13-3 season during their Super Bowl run in 2007, but Prescott will be fine. He had a bad game. That's all. It happens to the best of 'em.

As a two-time Super Bowl MVP, Manning can attest to that. He deserves the benefit of the doubt, for sure, but he'll be 36 next month, and the game isn't coming easily to him or just about anyone else on the Giants' offense. (Manning had one pass intercepted on a night when he could've had three or four picked off.) As hard as it is for a receiver to carry a unit, Beckham might be in that position right now.

"I want the defense to be sitting there eating candy," Beckham said, "untying their shoes, knowing that the offense has the game in control."

He knows that can't happen unless he elevates his game again and again. Beckham has 34 touchdowns in 40 career games, and he's averaging nearly 100 receiving yards per game in those three seasons. How much higher can he go? How much better can lucky No. 13 get?

At his locker Sunday night, Beckham credited his all-world hamstrings to his mother, an all-American sprinter in college. He said he enjoyed the Cowboys-Giants atmosphere and compared it to an LSU-Alabama game. He said he needed to forget about his thumb injury, forget the drops and start working harder in practice.

Beckham didn't blame the refs for anything this time, and he didn't trash an opposing cornerback. He didn't have to explain away some sideline rant or apologize for committing multiple personal fouls.

This time, his talent did the talking for him against the Cowboys. Odell Beckham Jr. showed the world that he's a high-maintenance act who is worth the aggravation.

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