Should it be Beckham for absolutely losing his cool, a decline culminating in a flying helmet-to-helmet “block” against Norman? Or possibly Norman for body slamming Beckham on the second play of the game, setting the tone for the day? What about the officials, for far too many scraps go before finally trying to restore some control?
There may not be a correct answer, but this much is clear: Beckham should have been ejected for his high shot on Norman in the second half. And the mere fact that the showdown reached that breaking point seemed to be what Norman was shooting for all along.
Beckham and Norman were at each other's throats from the onset of Carolina's wild 38–35 win. The Giants' otherworldly receiver did come through with a couple of key plays, including a 14-yard, fourth-down TD vs. Norman to tie the game late. But Beckham also endured a very uncharacteristic slump earlier.
On the Giants' fourth play from scrimmage, Beckham blew past Norman only to drop a sure touchdown pass downfield. A few moments later, Beckham had another ball slip through his hands as he slid for a catch.
He finished the first half without a catch, on three targets—the only time to date in his mesmerizing career that Beckham has not caught a pass before halftime.
As his frustrations grew, the situation between him and Norman spiraled further. Beckham was flagged for unnecessary roughness in the second quarter, then earned two more personal-foul flags in the third—one for grabbing Norman's leg after the completion of a play, another for the dangerous helmet-to-helmet contact. Norman also earned an unnecessary roughness call there, retaliating to Beckham's hit with an apparent kick attempt. He was penalized again two snaps later.
“We're out there playing football. We're competing,” Beckham said, via the NFL Network's Kimberly Jones. “You're a competitor, I'm a competitor. We're always going to go at it. You know, anyone who has ever played sports ... you're going to go at it as hard as you can.”
There is competing, and then there is playing reckless. The Beckham-Norman matchup flew into the latter category.
“[Beckham] did lose his composure,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “I'll talk to him about it.”
The battle continued on well past the final whistle, with Norman taking several shots at Beckham during postgame interviews. Norman reportedly let this comment fly: “F*** him. He's a b****. Screw him and his whole setup.”
There was more.
Norman says Beckham's true nature was exposed today. As his "layers were peeled back."— Joe Person (@josephperson) December 20, 2015
And Norman made sure to take the spat to Twitter, as well:
Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara came to his teammate's defense: “He wears it on his sleeve,” Amukamara said, according to Jones. “I really liked the battle with him and Josh. it was like Floyd and Pacquiao.”
The problem for the Giants came when the constant pushing and shoving (and swats to the head and unnecessary tackling) took Beckham out of his comfort zone. It's not a secret that he can run a little hot when these physical battles kickstart, and Norman made sure to keep poking the bear.
The entire flow of the game might have been different had Beckham caught that early deep ball from Eli Manning. He likely would have waltzed into the end zone to give his team a 6–0 lead. The Panthers eventually struck first and the Giants found themselves frantically rallying in the second half.
They did manage to erase a 28-point deficit, Beckham coming up with two catches (including the TD) on the game-tying drive. For the rest of the afternoon, though, he managed just 22 yards on four catches, far below his usual production. Sunday's loss marked the first time since Week 7 that Beckham did not hit the 100-yard mark.
Norman is a Defensive Player of the Year front-runner for a reason. Week in and week out, he takes on the opposition's top receiver and shuts him down. The Giants knew they had their hands full finding Beckham space, which is all the more reason why they needed their star wide receiver to capitalize when the opportunities were there.
Instead, he spent the better part of three quarters hunting Norman in an undisciplined display.