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Odell Beckham Jr. stutter-stepped forward, turned back around to catch the pass from New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, and then lofted the ball across the field into the waiting arms of a wide-open Saquon Barkley.
The rookie running back then took off, galloping toward the end zone and making a last-second jump-skip over the outstretched arms of a diving Carolina Panthers defender. The dizzyingly-delightful trickeration stunned the Panthers defense, which allowed the Beckham-to-Barkley connection to yield a 57-yard score. And soon Beckham was racing down field toward his teammate, windmilling his arms like a wild, jubilant child.
Hours after the wide receiver’s controversial comments about Manning’s presumed inefficiency as a deep-ball passer, and his own unhappiness at being “held back” by the Giants, aired on ESPN Sunday morning, Beckham showed just how easy it is to inject “some heart” into a listless offense with an accurate throw. But New York’s nail-biting loss in Carolina was a microcosm of The Odell Experience: a collection of dazzling highlight reel plays interspersed, unneeded drama and too many drops.
His final stat line in the Giants’ 33-31 loss — eight catches on 14 targets, one passing touchdown, one touchdown catch and 131 receiving yards — was impressive. But in the wake of another defeat (this time, courtesy of a 63-yard game-winning field goal by Panthers kicker Graham Gano with one second remaining) were pointed questions about the chemistry within the Giants’ locker room and, more specific, the relationship between their star quarterback and star receiver.
Beckham now finds himself in the eye of the storm and the root cause of unnecessary distraction at a time when his team is 1-4 with a “Thursday Night Football” showdown with the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) on the horizon. And, right now, it’s unclear if Beckham’s latest remarks will spark a giant turnaround for the franchise or cause the Giants locker room to implode.
But his outspokenness — whether you deem it diva antics or justifiable frustration with an aging quarterback — shouldn’t be surprising. Least of all to the Giants, who long ago accepted his bluntness and behavior as a byproduct of the unpredictability of life with Beckham.
He’s the fiery playmaker who once fought with former Panthers and current Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman on the field; the hothead who head-butted a locker and punched a hole in a wall following a playoff loss at Lambeau Field; and he’s also the guy who took his aggression out on a sideline kicking net.
But he’s also the dynamic pass-catcher who can haul in any wayward throw with one hand and single-handedly change the complexion of a game with one move. He’s also the type of player who can be trusted to throw a TD pass to a rookie running back against an unsuspecting defense.
At the opposite end of the spectrum of that electrifying 57-yard TD throw was Pat Shurmur, New York’s first-year head coach, having to answer even more questions regarding the latest on Beckham.
Two weeks ago, Beckham hinted at his frustration in an interview with Yahoo Sports, likening himself to a basketball player shooter who doesn’t get the ball enough.
“So if I don’t get to shoot, you kind of feel useless, no matter what you’re doing,” he said, adding: “I could be used more.”
At the time, his team was still searching for its first win of the season. But when further removed from the facility, Beckham felt even more free to express himself. In a sit-down ESPN interview with rapper Lil Wayne, Beckham reiterated that the Giants’ coaching staff wasn’t using him enough and was being out-schemed by other teams, said “I don’t know” when asked if Manning was the reason for the team’s offensive struggles and declined to say he was definitely happy playing in New York — less than two months after signing a five-year extension with a maximum $95 million value and nearly $65 million guaranteed.
“Obviously, I love seeing the sunshine all the time. I love being in L.A. I just like that atmosphere, but this is where I’m at,” said Beckham, noting the success of the Rams’ high-octane offense.
Despite his record-setting success, he also divulged: “I don’t feel like I’m given an opportunity to be the very best that I can be, to bring that every day. .… I don’t want to be held back anymore.”
Shurmur was “livid” at Beckham’s comments, according to Fox Sports. After the loss Sunday, Beckham said he texted Shurmur on Saturday night and asked to talk to the team. He also said he chatted privately with Manning.
“Odell and I have a great relationship,” said the quarterback, who threw a pair of interceptions and a pair of touchdowns. “… Our mindset will be everybody stay focused on beating Philadelphia.”
Shurmur said in his postgame news conference that he didn’t ask Beckham to apologize, but made it clear that the issue was “addressed” in the locker room.
“I’m going to answer all of the drama questions right now,” he said. “I addressed it with Odell. I addressed it with our team. I publicly declared that I didn’t agree with his comments and I asked anybody that was interested, if they wanted clarification, go to Odell ’cause he’s a big man.
“Now, I’m not going to give the public a pound of flesh on this. That would make me small, not strong. And these are the kind of things, in my opinion, when you have the locker room we have, that will help galvanize them. ’Cause the locker room took care of it. And that’s all I’m saying on it. Finito. Done. Let’s talk football, not drama.”
But Beckham’s candidness ensured that his relationship with Manning and Shurmur will be scrutinized for the duration of the season.
There are plenty of issues plaguing the Giants: miscommunication on offense, poor tackling, inconsistent play by Manning, poor offensive line play, special-teams miscues, defensive lapses, inexcusable penalties … and, yes, mistakes by Beckham, too. Against Carolina, he dropped an easy pass on fourth-and-3, caused a special-teams gaffe that resulted in the Panthers recovering the ball in the end zone for a TD, and later dropped a touchdown pass from Manning. But Beckham failed to mention all of the collective calamities that have befallen his team. Instead, intentionally or not, he laid the blame squarely at Manning’s feet in his interview with ESPN.
“I don’t regret anything that I said,” the receiver told reporters, adding that his comments had been “on my heart” since their Week 2 loss at Dallas and “all the stuff that was built up inside, it came out in the wrong way.”
And that is who Beckham is. For better or worse, he will be himself and he will speak his truth — as he sees it.
He’s talented. Emotional. And he wants the damn ball.
And the Giants already knew that.
Beckham is talented enough to help save a Giants season on the verge of slipping away. But by virtue of his personality and his position, he also has the power to derail this team and sink his own locker room.
And that’s a dangerous position for a franchise to be in after investing $65 million in a player who isn’t happy.
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