Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
Odell Beckham Jr. hasn’t just been great in his first two seasons with the Giants. He has been historically great. The numbers tell it all: Through his first 25 games, he has more catches (176), yards (2,625) and touchdowns (24) than any other receiver. Ever.
More than Jerry Rice. More than Randy Moss. More than Terrell Owens, Marvin Harrison, Don Hutson, Tim Brown or any other Hall of Famer. It is not even close for second.
But there still is so much more for Beckham to prove, with Sunday’s game offering the latest challenge. One man believes Beckham’s brilliance will come into even better focus by virtue of what happens against the 13-0 Panthers. This man owns the franchise receiving records that Beckham will shatter if he plays long enough and remains with the Giants.
“I think we’re going to learn so much about Odell Beckham from this game,” said Amani Toomer, the Giants’ leader in receptions (668), yards (9,497) and touchdown catches (54). “He’s going to have maybe the toughest one-on-one matchups he’s ever had, and I think it will tell us a lot about him.”
Beckham will go head-to-head against Josh Norman, who has emerged as one of the league’s elite cover corners. Norman is particularly anxious to go against the NFL’s most talked-about receiver. “I’m very much anticipating this matchup,” Norman said. “Looking at some of the stuff my opponent possesses, man, it’s enticing. It looks very edible.”
Beckham has tried to downplay any hype associated with what should be a fascinating battle against Norman, but Toomer believes this could be the most important matchup of Beckham’s young career. Especially after what Toomer saw from Beckham the last time he faced a cornerback this good.
“I go back to that game against the Patriots, and Beckham had a tough time against Malcolm Butler,” Toomer said. “I think he realized after that game, ‘Hey, this isn’t easy and I have to play hard every week or else I’m going to be embarrassed.’ And Butler was embarrassing him. He was in his face. He was talking trash. That was the first time I saw kind of like, ‘Uh-oh. This is the real deal.’ ”
Beckham wound up with 104 yards and a touchdown in a 27-26 loss to the Patriots, but the numbers are somewhat deceiving. He was targeted 12 times and had only four catches, the lowest percentage (33) of his career. And on the biggest play of all — the potential winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter — Butler knocked the ball out of Beckham’s hands in the end zone.
After the game, Beckham took personal responsibility. “I felt like I lost it,” he said. But the 23-year-old also seemed to have a greater resolve as a result of what he considered a poor performance. “It’s going to be good,” he said cryptically. When asked to explain what he meant, he simply repeated the phrase.
Beckham has been dominant ever since, with 22 catches for 457 yards and four touchdowns. “This is going to be a big game for him,” Toomer said. “I think we’re going to find out a lot more about him the way he goes against Norman.”
Beckham has had six straight games with at least 100 receiving yards, and Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday that he reminds him of Rice, considered the greatest receiver of all time. Beckham demurred when told of Rivera’s comments, calling it “shocking” to hear his name in the same breath as the great 49er. He also downplayed the matchup against Norman.
“As far as I’m concerned, the Giants play the Panthers,” Beckham said. “There’s 11 guys on the field and everyone has a one-on-one matchup.”
Toomer isn’t buying it. He suggests that Beckham’s matchup not only will go a long way toward deciding the game but also will be an indicator of Beckham’s progress.