There is no way to know whether Odell Beckham Jr.’s meltdown last year against cornerback Josh Norman could have been avoided had Victor Cruz been in the game. But Cruz likes to think the situation wouldn’t have escalated the way it did, when Beckham became so enraged that he launched himself helmet first at Norman and wound up being suspended.
“I just feel like things would have shaken out a little differently had I been there,” Cruz told Newsday on Thursday. “I would have been more of a voice to interject and tell him, ‘You don’t need to do this. This is bigger than just this game.’ ”
Norman was so completely inside Beckham’s head during the Panthers’ 38-35 win last Dec. 20 that the Giants’ receiver incurred three personal fouls, including the head shot that resulted in his suspension for the regular-season finale. During the offseason, NFL owners approved a measure — dubbed “the Beckham rule” — in which a player can be ejected for committing two personal fouls. It is still up to the referee’s discretion to eject a player for one personal foul, although that is a rarity and has not occurred this season.
“I would have been a voice, a bigger voice, whatever it was, to tell him that we’ve got bigger fish to fry,” Cruz said. “It’s bigger than just this moment. This game is bigger than just this.”
Cruz missed nearly two full seasons with knee and calf injuries, and his presence on and off the field has helped Beckham. Their partnership was highly anticipated when Beckham began his career in 2014. But they had been on the field together a mere six quarters when Cruz went down with a season-ending knee injury against the Eagles. Cruz then missed 2015 with calf problems that eventually required surgery.
In this season’s first two games, Cruz and Beckham made it much more difficult for defenses, with Cruz making the winning catch against the Cowboys and setting up the winning field goal against the Saints with a fourth-quarter reception. Beckham leads the team with 12 catches, although he is still waiting for his first touchdown. He needs 86 receiving yards to become the fastest to 3,000 in NFL history. Sunday’s game against Washington will be the 30th of Beckham’s career.
The bigger story line will be Beckham’s first meeting since last season with Norman, who signed with Washington as a free agent. If Cruz finds Norman getting to Beckham, he won’t hesitate to intercede. Nor will Beckham decline the help. Their relationship is that solid.
“He comes to me and asks me certain things about how he feels and how he should go about certain things moving forward,” Cruz said. “We talk. It’s less about me dictating to him how he should do things, but more so about us having a conversation and talking things out. I think that’s the biggest key about the relationship between him and me. We just talk. I give him ideas and give him my projections on certain things. And we just talk things out and we go from there.”
Beckham said of his relationship with Cruz: “I love it.”
There is much the two share, even if their paths to the NFL differed greatly. Cruz made the Giants’ roster in 2010 as a walk-on free agent from the University of Massachusetts, while Beckham was a first-round pick in 2014.
“It’s not so much veteran leadership (from Cruz), but just another guy who’s been in New York, who’s had his ups and downs, who’s finally back on the field,” Beckham told Newsday. “That’s the best feeling about it, that he’s worked his butt off to get back out here and you can just tell, he’s happy to be back. That gives me energy, it gives the team energy, everybody. We love Vic. For him to be out there, to be back making plays, it’s awesome.”
Beckham has gone to great lengths to avoid giving Norman any bulletin-board material this week, emphasizing that the game is not about any individual matchup. Then again, Beckham expressed similar sentiments before last year’s game, and you know what happened.
This time, though, Beckham seems to have learned from his experience. And the fact he has another voice he greatly respects playing alongside him reduces the likelihood of another meltdown. No, this is all about making plays, not making noise.
And with Cruz as well as promising rookie Sterling Shepard lining up with him, Beckham knows there is something special going on here.
“It’s going to be trouble,” Beckham said of defenses having to deal with the Giants’ receivers. “Like I said, you’ve got to pick your poison.”