GREEN BAY, Wis.
Nearly two years after a spectacular catch vaulted him into stardom, Odell Beckham Jr. returns to the Sunday night prime-time stage under a cloud of controversy. His one-handed reception in 2014 is a distant memory after a series of in-game meltdowns that threaten his reputation and even his long-term future with the Giants.
It’s fitting that Beckham will perform before a national television audience when the Giants visit the Packers at venerable Lambeau Field, a full-circle moment of sorts after his historic night in a similar circumstance two years ago against another cornerstone NFL franchise. Yet the dynamics of the backdrop couldn’t be more disparate.
His touchdown reception on Nov. 23, 2014, may have been the greatest catch ever and elevated his profile so dramatically and so swiftly that he became one of the league’s most recognizable players. But the weight of that stardom has proved to be a heavy burden, and the fiery temperament that in some ways fueled his rise to NFL stardom has led to a far different conversation.
It’s no longer the catches we wait to see, but the confrontations.
Beckham’s hair-trigger temper showed itself in a late December game against the Panthers last season, when he fell for cornerback Josh Norman’s taunts and committed three personal fouls, the last of which earned him a one-game suspension for head-butting the cornerback. But after an offseason of reflection and the warnings of well-meaning coaches and teammates, the nonsense has continued the last two weeks — first against Norman, now with Washington, and then last Monday night against Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
Beckham was the focal point of most of the media attention during the week, and even team president and co-owner John Mara’s trip to the Vatican for a conference on faith and sport wasn’t off-limits for talk of Beckham’s antics. Mara defended his prized receiver, calling him “basically a very good young man who does a lot of good things off the field.” But Mara conceded that Beckham “plays the game with a lot of passion and sometimes he goes a little too far.”
Beckham did seem more contrite during his weekly chat with reporters at his locker, suggesting that he could stand to dial it back and play with more control. He cited the importance he places on being a good role model for kids, something he’s very sensitive about. Then again, he cited the role- model factor in his apology statement after his suspension last year, and that didn’t prevent him from flying off the handle the last two weeks.
So it’s an important test for the 23-year-old receiver, who admittedly walks a fine line between playing with passion and having that passion play him when he can’t keep his emotions under control.
It’s also an important moment for Ben McAdoo, who faces his mentor, Packers coach Mike McCarthy, for the first time as the Giants’ head coach.
McAdoo has come under fire for not being able to tamp down Beckham’s emotions and channel his energy into making great catches like the one two years ago instead of losing his cool. But McAdoo believes Beckham is ready to settle down and concentrate more on making catches than making enemies.
“Every time that kid touches the football, you think it’s going to be a big play,” McAdoo said. “You just want to be able to get him the ball in space and watch him work. That’s the thing with all of us. I feel like you just want to get us the ball so we can get some space and beat our defender one-on-one. See what happens.”
McAdoo, who continues to call the plays on offense, understands the importance of getting the ball to Beckham, something that didn’t happen through much of last week’s 24-10 loss to the Vikings. Beckham had a career-low 23 receiving yards.
“You have to get all your playmakers the ball early and often,” he said. “That’s the way you get them acclimated to the game early and get them into a flow. Then they’re comfortable for the rest of the game. Obviously, we want to get everyone the football in a way they can utilize their skill set and get us first downs and touchdowns.”
Beckham himself is hungry to make big plays, and admits there simply haven’t been enough of them. Perhaps the most stunning stat of all: Through four games, he has not scored a touchdown.
“I just want to compete. None of the extra stuff,” he said. “It’ll be straight. It’ll all work itself out. We’ll start winning some games and help pick up this offense.”
There isn’t a better time for Beckham to change the narrative. With repeated questions about whether he has the temperament to deal with the stardom that blossomed after that memorable catch on that Sunday night at MetLife Stadium in 2014, Beckham can take that stage once more and reframe his image to one that revolves around being a dynamic playmaker, not a divisive troublemaker.