As far as Victor Cruz is concerned, the Odell Beckham Jr.-Josh Norman feud ended on Sept. 25 at MetLife Stadium.
Early in the Giants’ game against the Redskins that afternoon, Beckham and Norman collided in the end zone when Beckham faked as if he was jumping for a pass from Eli Manning. Norman reacted by wrapping his arms around Beckham and lifting him up for a few seconds before letting him go.
If there would be another flare-up of a personal rivalry that goes back to last December, when Beckham became so incensed that he launched himself headfirst at Norman’s helmet and incurred a one-game suspension, this would be it.
“In that moment, Odell could have reacted, and it could have been a big melee,” Cruz said Wednesday. “But once [Norman] put him down, [Beckham] just relaxed and was calm. In that moment, you knew this was over. Odell is over it. It’s not going to be a big thing any more, and we’re moving on.”
Beckham actually did lose his composure in that game, a 29-27 loss to the Redskins, but it wasn’t because of any interaction he had with Norman. He exploded in anger on the sideline after Eli Manning threw an incompletion in the end zone to tight end Will Tye, and at one point flung his helmet into the kicking net. The net caromed back and struck him in the face, leaving a welt on his cheek.
The third-year receiver has mostly done a better job of controlling his emotions in recent weeks, and he’d better hope there isn’t another flare-up in Sunday’s regular-season finale at FedEx Field. Beckham has his sights set firmly on the opportunity to play in his first playoff game the following week, and he can’t afford to risk it by engaging in any nonsense with Norman.
“It’s always been about a bigger picture than two players on the football field, in my mind,” Beckham said. “It’s something that was kind of created. It stuck, and it has been run with ever since then.”
OK, hold on right there. This was something created by Beckham and Norman, not some made-up controversy by the media. Beckham and Norman engaged in some of the worst cheap-shot moments ever seen on a football field in last year’s Giants-Panthers game at MetLife, and Beckham going at Norman helmet-first absolutely merited the one-game suspension he was assessed.
Beckham seems to have straightened himself out, and his behavior hasn’t been an issue since getting into it with Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes during a Monday night game Oct. 3 in Minnesota. And I don’t consider what happened after last week’s loss to the Eagles, when he banged his head in frustration at losing a chance to clinch a playoff spot, a big deal. It was a momentary reaction similar to what plenty of uber-competitive players have displayed after difficult losses. And it’s important to note that his behavior hasn’t cost his team on the field.
That said, Beckham plans to play as hard as he can against Norman, or whoever else might be covering him on Sunday in a game that holds no playoff implications for the Giants. A win for the Redskins, and they’re in as long as the Packers-Lions game doesn’t end in a tie.
“I’m going to compete if my little sister or little brother was out there,” Beckham said. “I’m going to compete. I’ve never been one to ever half-step anything or just go out there and have fun. [Norman] is a great competitor and he’s a great player. It’s always a great matchup.”
Beckham admits it may not be easy concentrating in a game that the Giants can’t gain or lose any playoff positioning, but there is a statistical achievement that will surely interest him. Beckham trails Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton by only 30 yards (1,353-1,323) and can become the first Giants player since 1935 to finish with the most receiving yards in a single season. The last Giant to do it: Ray Flaherty, who had 21 catches for 350 yards in 1932.
“Stats and numbers, they’re all going to come at some point in time,” Beckham said.
But he has his mind more on what’s to come the following week — and potentially behind — than any statistical accomplishment.
“What I’m really focused on, for the first time in my career in the NFL,” he said, “is having the opportunity to go to the playoffs and play in those big-time games. It’s hard to not look past this game knowing what’s at stake and the position we’re in.”
For Beckham, it’s all about what happens after Sunday’s game. Which is why he has to make sure that what happens during the game doesn’t impact his availability for the ones that really matter. The feeling here is he understands what’s at stake and won’t let any personal rivalry with Norman impact the more important goal.