EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — “Let him get dressed first,” the member of the Giants’ p.r. staff asks the mass phalanx of reporters surrounding Odell Beckham Jr’s locker, even though the receiver has yet to even arrive onto the scene. But his request is ignored, and no one moves.
It’s Sunday afternoon in East Rutherford, about half an hour after New York won a wild, wacky and (for the most part) terribly played game against the NFC North leading Bears, and still the mood in the room is mixed. Because nothing can ever be simple with the Giants—not this season, at least, during which New York has endured more controversies than they have wins. And definitely not with Beckham, who seems to always have done something about which the assembled media demands a response.
The team’s 30–27 overtime victory was, well, weird. There’s really no better way to phrase it. It featured all the important things a football game needs to have in order to be classified as weird.
It had impressive individual feats of athleticism and strength that didn’t look quite real: Bears defensive end Khalil Mack picked an offensive lineman off the ground—this time left tackle Nate Solder, because Mack seems to do it to someone new every week— with one hand and simply tossed him aside like a child; Chicago receiver Allen Robinson Jr. caught a pass down the sideline using the helmet of the defensive back in coverage; and Giants running back Saquon Barkley hurdled a six-foot-tall man, who was standing fully erect, with his arms raised. (“My body took over,” Barkley says. “I just reacted.”)
It had Big Man Touchdowns: New York scored on the second play of the game, when Chicago backup quarterback Chase Daniel threw a pass directly into the arms of linebacker Alec Ogletree, who then rumbled eight yards to pay dirt; later the Bears scored on a one-yard rush from defensive end Akiem Hicks, a play called “Freezer Left,” a clear homage to the famous William ‘Refrigerator’ Perry touchdown run in Super Bowl XX. (“It was pretty cool, man” Hicks says about the first time he’s ever carried the ball in his football career, going all the way back to when he was a kid. “I have been hitting people since I was little.”)
It had not one, but two special teams highlights: The Giants downed a punt at the two-yard line late in the game, a beautiful three-man effort that made football purists smile and seemed like it would seal the victory; a minute later, the Bears kicked a field goal and then secured the onside kick, a rarity in the NFL (more on that in a second).
It had trick plays: On a double reverse, Bears running back Tarik Cohen threw a game-tying touchdown with no time left, to send the game to the extra period; Beckham Jr. threw his second touchdown pass of the year—a 49-yard heave to Russell Shepard—becoming only the second player since the NFL-AFL merger with multiple TD passes and five receiving touchdowns in the same season.
And that’s the play that Beckham will talk about now, as the crowd of reporters sticks microphones and cameras and recorders into his face.
“It didn’t feel real,” Beckham says about his pass that came with 12:49 left in the third quarter, and gave the Giants both the lead and the momentum. “I saw [Shepard] down the middle of the field and I was like, this can’t be real. I just launched it to him.”
It was a busted play. Shepard was supposed to be in “max protection,” blocking downfield for receiver Bennie Fowler, who the play was designed to go to. But as Beckham received the pitch from quarterback Eli Manning, and Fowler was double-teamed, Shepard noticed that the Bears safeties had all cheated up, leaving the back of the field completely uncovered. So he took off. Beckham appeared to nearly break off running, but then the receiver stopped on a dime near the line of scrimmage and launched the ball to Shepard, who was wide open nearly 50 yards downfield.
“For him to recognize and see that,” Shepard says, “that’s impressive. [Odell] demands attention. I snuck through the cracks… [He is] one of the best people I’ve seen with the ball, period.”
With the pass, Beckham became the first non-quarterback with multiple passing touchdowns in a season since Antwaan Randle El in 2010. Beckham—who also threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Barkley in a Week 5 loss to the Panthers—now has completed a longer pass than nine qualified quarterbacks this season, including Cam Newton, Baker Mayfield and Dak Prescott, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
“There’s not a lot he can’t do,” tight end Rhett Ellison says. “That was a special play.”
Beckham added a receiving touchdown on the Giants next drive, and New York won the game in overtime. It should have been the rare time this season for Beckham to celebrate, unreserved; for him to be feted and universally cheered.
But, like always seems to be the case with the receiver, it wasn’t that simple, because he also had to respond to questions about his effort on the Bears onside kick. With just over a minute left in the game and Chicago down seven, Beckham appeared to be in prime position to recover the onside kick attempt. But instead of diving to corral the ball, Beckham bent down hesitantly and attempted to swat it away—reminiscent of the play that Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was criticized for in Super Bowl 50.
When asked about the play, Beckham first complimented the kick. Then he avoided the question about his chances to dive. Then he accused a reporter of “asking the question just to ask the question,” and added that he’s not going to talk about it. When asked about the play one more time minutes later, Beckham cracked and offered his most impassioned plea. “I could dive in there and still not get the ball,” he said, confusingly. “Nobody should ever question my effort or my heart. That’s the last thing you can do. You can question me as a person, as a man, whatever you want to do. But my heart and my effort can never be questioned, ever.”
Even if Beckham was unnecessarily contentious with his responses—something he often does, which just exacerbates any issues—it’s actually a fair statement for him to make. With all the drama around Beckham in his career, his passion for the game of football has never been debated. Sometimes just the opposite is said—that Beckham plays with too much passion, that his problems arise because he has too much heart.
It’s easy to watch that play on our televisions or our computers or our cell phones, and say that Beckham should have dove. But it’s really not that simple when on the field, when things happen in a split second and decisions must be made. It never is.
It really was a perfect onside kick. The ball took an awkward, in between bounce. Beckham misjudged it and found himself in the wrong position. That’s indisputable. But that’s not a question of effort. And if that were any player other than Beckham in that position, it’s unlikely that the player’s heart would be impugned.
But it wasn’t another player. It was Odell Beckham Jr., a receiver that we love to criticize.
There does seem to always be something with Beckham, something that causes the media horde to surround Beckham’s locker and demand answers. Sometimes it’s his fault. Sometimes it’s not. But it’s always something. And on Sunday, on a day when everyone should have just been celebrating his transcendent talents and enjoying jokes about whether he is the best quarterback on the Giants’ roster, it was simply more of the same.