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Maybe it's time to let Odell Beckham Jr. be himself again

Odell Beckham of the Giants during the second

Odell Beckham of the Giants during the second half against the Saints at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 30, 2018. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Odell Beckham Jr. has so far done an impressive job of keeping his cool.

"I have sacrificed and made personal changes, doing all I can to be the best teammate and bring everything that I can every Sunday,” he said after the loss to the Saints.

It’s definitely showed, particularly those personal changes. Beckham hasn’t had a public meltdown despite what he concedes are growing frustrations. Yeah, he slammed a helmet onto the turf and screamed at one point on Sunday. But there have been no real temper tantrums. No holes punched into walls. No heads banged against metal gates. No snarls or entanglements with kicking nets or jawing with opponents. He’s been a real pro.

Maybe that’s what’s missing.

Maybe by asking Beckham to grow up, the Giants have taken away the magic elixir that helped the wide receiver start his career at a pace that had never been seen before. They insisted that Samson go to the barber to make himself look presentable. They asked Beckham to keep a lid on his id, and perhaps in doing so put a lid on his game as well.

The Giants may have gained a respectable citizen but perhaps lost a superstar.

When it comes to big plays, Beckham is in the longest dry spell of his career. He’s gone four straight games without a reception of more than 30 yards. That’s happened just twice before, both times in 2016. The last time he broke one was a 48-yarder against the Chargers. That was the game when he fractured his ankle.

Beckham has the 16th most receiving yards in the NFL this season (331). He’s the only player in the top 16 without a reception of more than 30 yards. He and Julio Jones, who leads in receiving yards (xxx), are the only ones in that group without a touchdown.

That’s certainly not all Beckham's fault. Eli Manning has been unfriendly toward him as a quarterback. According to Pro Football Focus, Beckham was thrown 24 passes deemed “uncatchable” through the first three games. There were at least two more on Sunday.

"It seems like it shouldn't be this hard," Beckham said, "but it is."

Early in Beckham's tenure with the Giants, the coaches and front-office personnel – few of whom remain with the organization – were cautious about reining in his emotions too much. There were, of course, times when he went too far. His performance in the infamous 2015 game against Josh Norman and the Panthers was a tipping point and led to a suspension that hurt the team. But as much as the Giants cringed at his antics, they understood that it was what made him great. There was raw energy oozing from the young man, a desire that was limitless to the point of near insanity.

But then people started calling him a distraction. And then he landed on the wrong side of decency with his urinating dog celebration a year ago (although he insisted it was a politically motivated gesture). And then he fractured his ankle. And then he was featured in a viral video in France. And then the Giants said they were tiring of his antics and dangled a huge contract extension in front of him and told him he could have it on one condition: That he change.

So he did.

Beckham insists that his on-field demeanor hasn’t changed.

"I am happy where I stand,” he said. “That same person in there that has that passion and intensity, the one that the camera has been on and has made some so-called mistakes by letting out what's inside. That's what has propelled me to be where I'm at. That's what makes me great.”

But maybe keeping it locked up is unhealthy, not only mentally but for football performance. Maybe it’s time for an outburst, public or otherwise. Maybe it’s time, with the season on the brink, to show exactly how much he cares, let it out and allow the entire team to feed off it. It may be something they are starving for.

"He’s a great leader, he’s a passionate player, and you thrive off that, especially me," rookie running back Saquon Barkley said of Beckham. "When I see that, that makes me get emotional, too. That makes me want to play 10 times harder, and that’s something we've all got to do. We've all got to be passionate about this game, we've got to love the game, we've got to love each other, we've got to believe in each other."

It doesn’t have to be ugly or a distraction. But it has to be real. It has to be Odell, the old fire-breathing maniac who now provides only wisps of smoke. Football is a game of passion, and it’s OK to show that once in a while.

“I’m very happy with how far I've come with the growth that I've had,” Beckham said Sunday before pausing. “It is frustrating to lose. I hate losing.”

He always has. Now, though, his inability to flash that hatred may be holding him back. It takes so much energy and focus for him to dam up that swell of fury, to worry about what the cameras will catch, and it feels as if something has been lost on the field because of it.

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