It was late in the third quarter of Sunday night’s game against the Cowboys, with the Giants’ offense having done virtually nothing, when Odell Beckham Jr. started talking to himself on the sideline.
The conversation was not pleasant.
“I told myself, ‘You need to wake up,’ ” Beckham recalled afterward. “ ‘I don’t know what’s going on with you. You’re on autopilot. Whatever the case may be, you’re not affecting this game. You’re not doing anything.’ ”
The Giants were trailing 7-3, still in the game, obviously, but only because the defense was doing such a masterful job against the 11-1 Cowboys in stifling rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott and star receiver Dez Bryant. The Giants’ offense continued to be shrouded in a weeks-long funk, with little proof that anything good could happen the rest of the game, if not the rest of the season.
Beckham was complicit in the feeble effort, having dropped two passes, one of which likely would have resulted in a first-half touchdown.
“That bothers me. That eats me up,” he said. “I feel like I work too hard. We’re up all day, in meetings, for these 60 minutes on Sunday, and it just kills me to come out here and not do what you’re supposed to be doing. I talked to the man above, and I said, ‘Wake me up. It’s time to wake up.’ ”
And then it happened.
Two plays after cornerback Leon Hall intercepted Prescott to give the Giants possession at their own 39, Beckham lined up to the left of the formation. The play was designed to have him run a quick slant toward the middle of the field to take advantage of single coverage by cornerback Brandon Carr, who had done an effective job blanketing Beckham.
Beckham caught Eli Manning’s pass in stride, staying just a step ahead of Carr as he chased him across the field. Then it was a test of wills, as Beckham felt Carr stay with him stride for stride.
“Fight or flight” was how Beckham described it. “A gazelle running from lions, running for your life. Sometimes the gazelle gets caught, but there are some pretty quick animals that get away every now and then.”
Beckham won the race, dashing into the right corner of the end zone and prompting the sellout crowd of 80,874 to make the building shake in celebration of what turned out to be the winning touchdown.
The Giants went on to beat the Cowboys, 10-7, in what could turn out to be a critical game — perhaps the critical game — in their pursuit of a playoff berth. At 9-4, the Giants are in excellent position to earn a wild card, even if making up two games in three weeks on the 11-2 Cowboys appears remote.
“Playoffs is the obvious goal,” Beckham said. “If you’re not playing to go to the playoffs, if you’re not playing to win the Super Bowl, to be in those big games, I honestly don’t know what you’re playing for, because that’s why I play. To be in those big games. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to have destiny in our control and make the push for the playoffs.”
Beckham almost certainly will be a major factor in whether they get there. By far the best playmaker on the team, he understands what he needs to do to turn around an offense that has been a major source of concern, and why he needs to be part of an offense that is considered less of a hindrance and more of a solution. That hasn’t been the case for much of the season; even during the Giants’ six-game winning streak and then again last week in a 24-14 loss to the Steelers, the offense has been a major source of concern.
“The quote I’ve heard for the longest time is ‘offense wins games, defense wins championships,’ and this is a championship defense,” he said. “They come through every single game. We just have to find ways to be more explosive. That’s the bottom line. We have to find ways to get stuff done. But hey, if we’re winning 10-7, we’re still winning, and that’s really the most important thing.”
On this night, they won because of a brilliant defense and because of a brilliant play by their most talented player. A little over two years after making the signature one-handed catch in another Sunday night game against the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium, Beckham produced yet another memorable play — albeit slightly less spectacular. And unlike that game on Nov. 23, 2014, which the Giants lost, 31-28, Beckham now gets to enjoy the afterglow of a wondrous individual effort against the backdrop of his most meaningful win as a Giant.
He hopes there are more to come in the weeks ahead.