When you are Odell Beckham Jr. and draw attention to yourself the way only a few athletes do, there is no in-between.
You either capture the imagination of the sports world with magnificent plays, like that impossible one-handed catch against the Cowboys in 2014. Or you become the object of scorn when you act out and turn into an uncontrollable diva, like the Josh Norman set-to in 2015 or the fits of temper through the first half of this season.
Or when you go on a jaunt to South Florida with a few teammates, hang out with Justin Bieber and two rappers and are shown shirtless on a boat a week before your first playoff game. And then underperform by dropping two key passes early on and another later in the game and finishing with four catches for 28 yards and no touchdowns. One of his drops was on a key third down on the Giants’ first series, and another on a would-be touchdown pass later in the first quarter.
There were several miserable performances by several Giants in a 38-13 beatdown by the Packers in Sunday’s NFC wild-card game, but none was as scrutinized or criticized as much as Beckham’s. He draws attention with his play and his off-field lifestyle, and you cannot help but focus on him more than anyone else on this team. More than the coach and more than the quarterback, usually the most scrutinized people on any football team.
Beckham knows this better than anyone. “Absolutely,” he said when asked if he had expected fans to connect the Florida trip to this game. “It put in people’s minds that ‘OK, now, if the Giants lose, it’s because you went to Miami.’ ”
Beckham insists there was no connection between his impromptu trip and his unimpressive performance.
“I went through practice, had zero drops, zero missed assignments,” he said. “There was nothing that could connect seven days ago to today and how we played and executed. It created distractions for us. It’s unfortunate. That’s just the way the world is. There’s just no way you can connect something that happened seven days ago to this game, and we came out and played.”
The optics certainly were not good, especially when a picture of a shirtless Beckham and teammates Victor Cruz, Sterling Shepard and Roger Lewis Jr. swirled around social media and created plenty of heated discussion. But coach Ben McAdoo almost immediately dismissed the issue, saying the players could do as they wished on their day off. Eli Manning joked that the only disappointment he felt was that they didn’t prepare properly, forgetting to bring shorts and flip-flops — and shirts.
After the game, Manning said he saw no evidence of a carryover from last week’s trip.
“I thought our preparation was wonderful,” he said. “Guys made plays all during practice and were ready for today and ready for the moment. No one knows why you don’t go out and play your best. Overall, the Packers played better than we did, and I think that’s what it came down to. I guess we’re used to [Beckham] making unbelievable catches. He didn’t come down with some of those tough catches today. This game doesn’t come down on him, it comes down on the whole offense and on everybody. Everybody had their miscues today, and those add up.”
Linebacker Jonathan Casillas said he knew how the storyline might go. “At the end of the day, we all knew if he had a bad game or we lost the game or if he dropped a pass, it would come back to him,’’ he said, “but I don’t question his focus and I don’t question his loyalty to the team, either.”
If anything, Beckham might have wanted to win too much.
“The guy was so fired up before the game, he was emotional about it,” Casillas said. “That had nothing to do with last week. It’s the type of person he is, preparing for the game emotionally. It might have been too much for him. You have to have somebody like that who is a spark, an emotional spark, not only himself but for our team. I know he didn’t finish the way he wanted to, for sure.”
Beckham could have stayed home and read a few chapters of “War and Peace” or meditated on his day off, and he still might have played poorly. How many times have prominent athletes — from Babe Ruth to Mickey Mantle to Max McGee to Jim McMahon — partied in their down time and come back to shine when the games started? There’s no evidence of cause and effect here, because Beckham has been the subject of controversy before and still produced signature games.
This was not one of them, and he’ll have to live with the consequences and the criticism. It doesn’t help his image that he reportedly punched a hole in a piece of Sheetrock inside the locker room area after the game. But we’ve known all along that Beckham is a hot-tempered competitor, and this is in keeping with that narrative.
He seemed calm when addressing reporters after the game, although his moment of anger with the wall occurred after his news briefing and could be heard while Manning was holding his.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a long offseason, and you’ve just got to take it and grow, learn from it and find ways to not have this feeling again,” Beckham said. “It just [expletive] being on the opposite side of [winning].”
He’ll have plenty of time to think about it. And he’ll get plenty of flak because of how it all came down. When you’re Odell Beckham Jr., it’s euphoria or disaster.
When you draw this much attention to yourself and you don’t perform, you leave yourself open to criticism. In this case, Beckham has no one to blame but himself.
Odell Beckham Jr. was a non-factor in his first postseason game. His numbers:
Long Gain 11