All of the Giants in the locker room on Wednesday said they have Odell Beckham Jr.’s back.
But on Sunday, it was hard to find evidence of that.
While Beckham and Josh Norman of the Panthers were trading haymakers, body slams and, eventually, a helmet-to-helmet hit, few of the other Giants players on the field stepped forward to intervene. Here was their best player in altercation after altercation, after being threatened that the Panthers planned to end his career, and he couldn’t get the muscle to back him up and possibly prevent a one-game suspension?
There is no way Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, Rich Seubert or even the much-maligned Preston Parker would have allowed those skirmishes between Beckham and Norman to go unchecked. They would have grabbed the Panthers cornerback by the face mask, gotten flagged the 15 yards, and that likely would have been the end of it. Heck, if it happened to another Giant Beckham likely would have been the first to jump in the middle of the action.
Only no one on the current roster did that.
Where was the Noah Syndergaard of the Giants to throw the high-and-tight message?
“There’s a point where it needs to be handled,” center Weston Richburg admitted on Wednesday. “I don’t want to say anything to make anybody sound bad, but everybody understands that it could have been handled a better way.”
The playing field in the NFL is full of such frontier justice, whether it be above board or outside the law. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said there are routinely vicious, dirty plays in the trenches that go unnoticed by almost all fans, and they are dealt with accordingly.
Several Giants players said they didn’t recognize just how bad things were between Beckham and Norman while the game was going on.
“I had no idea,” guard Justin Pugh said. “I’m worrying about blocking the [defensive tackle] and finishing my run block. There was chippiness after the play. I had no idea punches were being thrown and guys were being thrown to the ground. That stuff is happening [near] the sideline so that’s tough to see.”
Running back Rashad Jennings said the same thing, that players are in “tunnel vision” while playing the game. He also said the Giants have gotten somewhat used to Beckham being the target of other teams’ aggressions.
“I’ve seen guys gunning at him all the time,” Jennings said. “From our vision, that’s what we see a lot of.”
Yet no one did anything. If a quarterback were harassed in such a manner, the offensive line would have went ballistic. Pugh did just that in last Monday’s game against the Dolphins after Eli Manning took a hard hit. He checked on the quarterback to make sure he was OK, then went after the offending defensive player. No flags were thrown, but a message was sent: Quit messing with our guy.
“It’s tough because there is a fine line between coming to a player’s defense and crossing the line and doing things after the whistle,” Jenkins said. “You don’t want to hurt your team, but at the same team you want to have your teammate’s back. So it’s a real fine line . . . A lot of the things that happened were close to the borderline of being after the whistle to begin with, so a lot of players, they come in to try to prevent stuff. I did see guys do that, they went in to try to separate them at times, and you don’t want to compound it with any more flags and hurt the team. It’s a tough, tough situation.”
Richburg agreed, noting that the instinct, of course, is to rally to a teammate’s defense.
“A penalty in that game, we didn’t want that to happen,” he said. “That’s kind of the dilemma we were in. You never want to get a penalty like that.”
But maybe that’s what the situation needed was a blatant flag. After the flurry of penalties in the third quarter, the antics between Beckham and Norman seemed to stop and the players went back to football. Part of that blame goes to the officiating of the game. But at least one Giants player seemed to regret not backing Beckham before things rose to the level where he faced a one-game suspension, which was upheld Wednesday.
“It’s one of those situations that obviously, clearly, if everybody knew what was going on at hand, we would rewind the tape,” Jennings said. “But it’s washed and we have to deal with anything that comes along consequence-wise. And it likely won’t happen again.”