EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Odell Beckham Jr. streaked down the field in a blur of dizzying, delightful grace. The foot race was on, with men in black in full pursuit of a receiver who would not be denied.
There was far too much at stake for Beckham to falter now. Too many critics to quiet. Too much wide-open space for him not to score.
Fueled by the big stage, the bright lights of prime time, and the foolish verbal jabs of a man he believes altered the course of his career, the Cleveland Browns star accelerated his stride, churned more grass beneath his feet and trotted into the end zone for the longest reception of his NFL career — and a figurative one-finger salute to Gregg Williams.
Days after the New York Jets defensive coordinator questioned whether Beckham was “one of the most dynamic players in the league,” the receiver put on a show in his return to MetLife Stadium, his former home the past five seasons with the New York Giants. With an impressive one-handed grab over a Jets defender and an 89-yard score to cap the 23-3 Browns’ victory on Monday Night Football, Beckham left no doubt that he’s still an impact player.
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By the time the dust settled on this lopsided affair, the star receiver purposely remained composed as he addressed reporters, preferring to take the high road when questioned repeatedly about Williams and the Giants’ fateful decision to trade him to Cleveland this past offseason.
But Beckham’s best friend and teammate knew better.
Browns receiver Jarvis Landry told Yahoo Sports that Beckham was “very much” pissed off by Williams’ comments, adding: “I was on the field pointing at Gregg Williams like, ‘You see him, bruh? He says you’re not the most dynamic player in the NFL.’ ”
This game was foremost about securing their first win of the season. But, for Beckham, it also was about exorcising old demons.
And silencing Williams.
“He acted like it didn’t faze him,” Landry said during a quiet moment in the visitors locker room. “But I think making that play. That moment. Being back. Being here — it was special. He’s one of the best receivers in the NFL. You give him that much space, put the ball in his hands, great things are going to happen.”
The Jets were manhandled by defensive end Myles Garrett (three sacks) and the rest of the Browns defense. They lost their backup quarterback, Trevor Siemian, who started in place of Sam Darnold who is sidelined several weeks because of mononucleosis. And the Jets’ so-called offensive guru, head coach Adam Gase, is being fairly criticized for his pedestrian game plan and the team's 0-2 record.
But it was Beckham who was the story of the evening, catching six passes for 161 yards against Williams’ aggressive defense less than a week after he blasted the Browns’ former defensive coordinator and interim head coach for targeting him in the past, resulting in an ankle injury that changed “my life forever.”
On Monday night, however, Beckham got the last word.
The receiver — who donned a $2 million Richard Mille watch — refused to fan the flames of his verbal war with Williams. There was no need to.
Beckham’s one-handed, 33-yard snag down the far sideline was reminiscent of The Catch that made him an NFL and social media star his rookie season. And his touchdown catch on a beautiful Baker Mayfield ball succinctly answered the question, “Odell who?”
“I knew that it was going to be a big play,” said Beckham, whose 89-yard catch-and-run score was aided by his quick feet and woeful coverage by the Jets secondary. “I saw the safety [Marcus] Maye. As I caught it, he knew I was taking an angle to the right. I saw him duck his head down and I just made a cut, and I knew I was out of there if my hamstrings held up.”
His legs would not betray him though. And when he crossed the goal line for his first touchdown in a Browns uniform, Beckham delivered a clear message to the MetLife Stadium crowd as well.
“He took the keys out, like, ‘I’m back home’ and then opened the door,” Landry said, describing Beckham’s end zone celebration. “All of that is a special moment for him.”
Said Garrett, who became the fifth-youngest player in NFL history to record a three-sack game on Monday Night Football: “He’s so dynamic. He can do it all.”
Obviously, Willams felt otherwise.
And that’s why Landry pointed in Williams’ direction on the Browns’ second-to-last drive.
“I don’t know if he did or he didn’t [see me], but I hope he did,” Landry said. “Like, you don’t talk s- - - to players like that. That’s too much. That’s more motivation. You don’t do that s - - -. And then you don’t disrespect somebody like that.”
He chuckled as he shook his head.
“Why are you even talking about this man like this anyway?”
In the end, Beckham got the win. And the last word.
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