Victor Cruz hadn’t heard about Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith’s challenge to Odell Beckham Jr., an “in your face” comment in which Smith said “there’s going to be a fight” if the Giants receiver hits him after the whistle Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
“I didn’t even know [Smith] said those things until we were in our meeting room,” Cruz told Newsday after Thursday’s practice. “[Beckham] brought it up to me.”
But if Beckham’s reaction was any indication, Cruz doesn’t think his temperamental teammate will fall prey to the goading from opponents that has tripped him up in recent games.
“I think he’s in a whole different space,” Cruz said. “Even after those comments, I don’t think it fazed him. I don’t think he’s even thinking about those type of things to do anymore.”
That’s certainly welcome news about Beckham, who lost his temper in matchups against Washington’s Josh Norman in Week 3 and Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes the following week. Beckham was much more restrained in Sunday night’s 23-16 loss to the Packers, and perhaps it was no coincidence that he had a solid game and scored his first touchdown of the season.
Beckham wasn’t available to the media Thursday, so there was no immediate reaction to Smith’s comments. But after playing his last game without incident, it was telling that not one question was asked about his temper issues when he met with reporters Wednesday. He was asked more questions about Eli Manning’s recent poor play than about anything else.
And he’s apparently undeterred by Smith’s comments.
“All of that extra hitting and talking, that’s not going to fly,” Smith said Wednesday via ESPN.com. “That’s not my game. I like to line up and play. Give me your best shot and I’ll give you mine. But if you hit me after the whistle, there’s going to be a fight.”
After the Packers game, the 23-year-old Beckham sounded like a young man who gets it. Finally.
“Smile and have fun,” he said of his approach. “Never let anyone steal your joy. This is what I love doing. It’s cool, all the other stuff that comes outside of it. But you play to leave a legacy. You play for bigger things than just scoring touchdowns. You play to win. I hate losing games more than I even enjoy a win. I can’t sit here and tell you I enjoy wins, because there is always something to critique.”
Beckham even poked fun at himself during the game. After making a fourth-quarter catch in the back of the end zone, he ran over and hugged the kicking net. In the loss to Washington, Beckham became so enraged after Manning’s fourth-quarter interception that he flung his helmet at the kicking net and was hit in the face when the net caromed back.
“Last time, I hit him and he hit me back,” Beckham said of the net. “I told him it was a good hit. I said, ‘From now on, we can be friends.’ It is what it is. You gotta have fun, gotta have fun.”
Sunday’s game will provide an even better test to see if Beckham truly is able to channel his energy into playing well and having fun and not getting sidetracked by what an opponent says or does. The Packers were without their starting cornerbacks and spent most of the game playing a cover-2 zone. Smith is known as a tough man-to-man corner, so there could be some extracurricular stuff in this one.
This time, Cruz isn’t worried about his teammate.
“People like [Smith] or things that are said like that, they’re just trying to poke us,” Cruz said. “It’s not our job to give in to those types of wars of words and just go out there and play.”
Sound advice from the veteran receiver. We’ll soon see if Beckham will heed it and let his wondrous talents show through instead of his hair-trigger temper.