The gold cleats were the giveaway. They were the signal that Odell Beckham Jr. was ready.
He still had to go through the pregame warm-up under the watchful eyes of the coaches and trainers, but that flashy footwear indicated before Beckham ever made a cut or ran a route that he planned on playing Monday night against the Lions.
Indeed, after getting the all clear from the medical staff, Beckham was active for the first time this season and played in his first game of any kind since he sprained his left ankle exactly four weeks earlier in a preseason contest against the Browns.
It was just the kind of emotional lift the Giants were looking for after a week of clouds from their clunker in the opener against the Cowboys. Beckham seemed more than happy to deliver that.
He was dancing during warm-ups, then took time to high-five fans and pose for selfies as he left for the locker room and the final game preparations. When he emerged through the tunnel with his teammates, he sprinted the length of the field, waving his arms at the fans and electrifying the crowd with his mere presence.
His impact on the early stages of the game, though, was far less significant. The Giants managed just 80 net yards in the first half of a 24-10 loss to Detroit that dropped them to 0-2.
Beckham didn’t even start and played just nine of the team’s 20 offensive plays in the first half as the Giants seemed to be easing him back into action. At first, he appeared primarily on third downs, then started playing more regularly. He caught two passes for 10 yards, playing nine of the Giants’ 20 first-half snaps.
El Manning was sacked four times in the first half, the Giants could not move the ball on the ground, and they nearly gave the Lions a defensive touchdown on their second play of the game. Manning was hit from behind and coughed up the ball which, after several diving attempts at it by both teams, was picked up in the end zone by Lions cornerback Darius Slay. Initially ruled a touchdown, replay showed that Manning’s knee was down before the fumble. It was not as bad as it could have been, but that did little to downplay the ugliness quotient.
Three plays into their home opener, the Giants were being lustily booed by their own fans at MetLife Stadium.
While Beckham’s return certainly gave the Giants an overall lift in spirit, it did not remedy the ills that were on display in last week’s opener. Jason Pierre-Paul had warned against hoping for that when he spoke this weekend.
“You can’t look towards one guy to lift up a team,” Pierre-Paul said. “That’s not what ‘team’ is. ‘Team’ is every guy coming together and playing together as one. We can’t depend on one guy, otherwise you’ll find yourself in the same place.”
While the Giants cleared Beckham to play, they had less luck on the defensive side with two starters who came into the game listed as questionable. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins (hand/ankle) went through warmups with position coach Tim Walton and looked slow, so the Giants made him inactive for the game. Linebacker B.J. Goodson (shin) never even made it onto the field for warm-ups. He was inactive as well.
The Giants trailed 17-7 at halftime. Matthew Stafford hit Marvin Jones on a 27-yard touchdown in the first quarter to put the Lions ahead 7-0, but the Giants responded with their first touchdown of the season. Manning hit rookie Evan Engram for the 18-yard score on the first play of the second quarter.
The Giants seemed poised for more when Jason Pierre-Paul sacked Stafford, causing a fumble that was recovered by Devon Kennard. But on the next play Manning threw a pass behind Engram that was tipped in the air and intercepted by linebacker Tahir Whitehead. Stafford wound up hitting Eric Ebron for a 7-yard score to make it 14-7.
Matt Prater kicked a 53-yard field goal with 30 seconds left in the half, bouncing the ball off and over the crossbar. The Giants had all three of their timeouts but decided to run out the clock rather than make an aggressive charge in the final seconds.
The fans booed that, too.