Kathy Willens
December 29, 2014

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) For a team that wasn't in the playoff hunt for most of the season and has missed the postseason the past three years, the New York Giants are heading into the offseason with a lot of optimism.

It didn't make a difference that they posted a 6-10 record, had a seven-game losing streak that made the final month meaningless and had one of the NFL's worst defenses.

The great equalizer is Odell Beckham Jr. The rookie wide receiver embarrassed opposing defenses, created an Internet frenzy with a one-handed catch, re-wrote some franchise records and tied Hall of Famer Michael Irvin's NFL record with nine consecutive games of 90 yards receiving.

Even more impressive: Beckham did it after missing most of training camp and the first four games of the regular season with a hamstring injury.

''He is the best rookie I have ever seen, hands down,'' 35-year-old placekicker Josh Brown said Monday as the Giants cleaned out their lockers. ''I have never seen somebody as athletic, who does it with such ease.''

Beckham has all the tools - speed, great hands, leaping ability, a keen mind and an enthusiasm for the game that sometimes gets the best of him.

His 63-yard touchdown catch and run in the season-ending 34-26 loss to the Eagles on Sunday included a showboating back-pedal into the end zone and a fastball spike against a nearby wall after scoring his 12th TD of the season, which tied the Giants' record for rookies.

''He's a very passionate player. That's just him. He makes plays. He's very confident,'' said Eagles cornerback Jaylen Watkins, who played against Beckham in college. ''He's thinking he's making the play every time it comes his way. He's got a great quarterback and they're on the same page. He's fast. He's all in one.''

Beckham had a lifetime's worth of highlight-reel moments this season and his final statistics were eye-popping. He had team highs of 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games.

''The growth that he made this season is pretty remarkable, and the impact he had on this offense was a great tribute to him and his work ethic,'' said Manning, who had 30 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and 4,410 yards in the new West Coast offense.

''It will be nice to have him for a full year in the mix and knowing that he can make some big plays for us.''

Beckham admits he has to pick his fights next season, noting he put a target on his own back too many times. The experience has been fun.

''There is still so much I can look back on and I wish I could've done that and I wish I could've done this,'' Beckham said. ''It was great to get here and be able to learn and experience things, to get a year of experience underneath my belt and I am looking forward to next year with a smile.''

The Giants' offense finished 10th in the league with a mediocre running game. Rookie Andre Williams led the team with 721 yards, but he did a lot of on the job training after Rashad Jennings was hurt.

Rueben Randle had two phenomenal weeks to finish the season, Larry Donnell was a pleasant surprise in his first season as the starting tight end and receiving group will be even better if Victor Cruz comes back from his second knee injury.

''The future here is just unbelievable,'' fullback Henry Hynoski said. ''You just saw flashes of it this year with the playmakers we've got. It's going to be an exciting team to watch in the coming years.''

What has to improve is the defense. There were just too many big plays by opposing teams and the run defense was ranked No. 30.

While it appears coach Tom Coughlin will survive the bad season, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is on the hot seat despite having seven contributing members of his unit go on injured reserve. Overall, the Giants had 22 players on injured reserve.

''You just can't win that way,'' said middle linebacker Jon Beason, who ended up on injured reserve. ''We're not making excuses. Next man up for sure. But you just can't win that way.''

Cornerback Walter Thurmond III lasted less than two games before tearing a pectoral muscle.

''We just need to have that time just to gel,'' he said. ''There are so many guys who are vital parts that end up getting injured. So we never really got out there full strength.''

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