There was 8:09 left, and the game had become way too interesting. The 0-for-2016 Browns had drawn within a touchdown and the Giants’ offense was sputtering again.
The unspoken sentiment, from fans watching at home to defensive players on the sideline, went something like this: “Do something!!!!”
Then the Giants did, perhaps the only way they can.
They turned to Odell Beckham Jr., who sticks out in a mediocre offense like the sore thumb that briefly sidelined him earlier in the game. Result: a 27-13 victory Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, a six-game winning streak and an 8-3 record.
On second-and-6 from the Giants’ 31-yard line, Eli Manning found Beckham in traffic, and the receiver caught the ball, faked cornerback Derrick Kindred off his feet and completed a 41-yard play to the Cleveland 28.
“It was a good check [by Manning],” Beckham said later. “They were playing two high. The safeties were wide. You kind of check to a double move. I felt like I should have gotten out of there and scored.”
No matter. Three plays later, Manning found Beckham for the pair’s second scoring connection of the day, a 4-yarder with 5:10 left.
Beckham celebrated by miming Cavaliers star LeBron James’ pregame chalk toss ritual. It was the second time he had done so, after having a 59-yard touchdown erased earlier when his punt return was called back because of a penalty on Mark Herzlich.
Did he feel he needed to reprise the routine because the first one technically didn’t count?
“Yeah, I guess,” he said. “Or just you have to do LeBron twice. It’s his city. It’s just great. I told him, I said, ‘I’ve got something for you if I get a chance to score.’ ”
So it goes for Beckham, who not only is one of the league’s premier showmen but discusses his plans beforehand with neighborhood superstars.
It was Browns punter Britton Colquitt who broke the news to him about the holding call on Herzlich.
“I told him I didn’t really care, I still returned it on you,” Beckham said. “It was a joking conversation. He was like, ‘Nah, don’t celebrate, it got called back.’ I was like, ‘Man, I’m still going to do it. I still ran it back on you.’
“It was fun being out there and having an opportunity to get your hands on some balls and make plays for this team.”
Fun it was, especially the punt return part. His three returns officially totaled 35 yards.
“It’s something that I’ve loved to do since I was little,” he said. “It takes you back to being a kid again.”
He recalled childhood “free-for-fall” games of “throw ’em up, bust ’em up” in which players took turns trying to run the ball against everyone else playing, sometimes well over a dozen would-be tacklers.
Would Beckham like to do more punt returning down the stretch? “You have to talk to Coach about that one,” he said. “Between us, I guess I wouldn’t mind doing it.”
But let’s face it, that is a mere sideshow to Beckham’s featured event on offense. And as the Giants take a big step up in competition in the coming weeks, they need him most there.
Beckham had been annoyed by a relatively limited role against the Bears the previous Sunday, but against Cleveland, the Giants looked for him early and often — six targets in the first quarter and 11 total en route to six catches for 96 yards.
Does it help him to get involved early? “A lot,” he said. “I feel like it puts me in a position to cause trouble for the rest of the game.”
That was evident when he caught a short slant, found another gear and blew past cornerback Joe Haden for a 32-yard scoring play with 1:13 left in the first half.
“We just caught them in a shallow and it just kind of turned into a footrace,” Beckham said. “It’s something that’s very hard to cover when you’re running across the field at full speed.”
For the Giants’ sake, Beckham can’t slow down in December.