Holy shit, Odell Beckham Jr.
Sunday’s 38-35 victory by the Carolina Panthers over Beckham’s New York Giants was easily the game of the year in the NFL. It had to be as wild and entertaining a game as we’ve seen in any major American sport in 2015. And what Carolina’s Cam Newton did? Merely one of the great quarterbacking displays of all time.
Yet Beckham stole the show. Not with his play, mind you, but by losing his shit early in the first quarter and then corkscrewing himself so deep into a hole of batshit-crazy, it’ll be a wonder if his reputation isn’t permanently tarnished. (By the way, that’s three “shits” in this story already, one for each of Beckham’s 15-yard penalties.)
Ten years from now, few will remember the import of Sunday’s game – the Panthers fighting for a perfect season and the Giants fighting for their playoff lives – but everyone will remember Beckham’s descent into abject violence.
To be sure, Carolina cornerback Josh Norman aided and abetted things. Mostly, though, he was the victim of a deranged lunatic.
Beckham, a league darling coming in, and certainly its best young receiver, punched and slapped Norman repeatedly, and this was all before he got serious about trying to knock the very brains out of perhaps the finest cover guy in the league. You’ve all seen the play by now: Beckham circling back to deliver a flying helmet-to-helmet hit on an utterly defenseless Norman. It was bush-league. It was reckless. It was beyond dirty. Somewhere, Ndamukong Suh surely wept tears of admiration. If Beckham isn’t suspended for it, something will be very wrong.
“He came back and was hunting,” Norman said, “and it was just, like, malicious in every way. I hope the league office gets a chance to review the film and see what they can do, because players like that don’t deserve to be in the game. I mean, it’s ridiculous.”
But let’s digress, shall we?
A popular narrative heading into this game was that the Giants have a history of knocking off unbeaten teams chasing history. It’s not much of a history, mind you, but we’ll play along. The 1998 Giants, a crappy 5-8 bunch at the time, upset John Elway and the 13-0 Denver Broncos. A mere nine seasons later, the G-Men took down the perfect New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. That seemed to be Terry Bradshaw and Michael Strahan’s reason for picking the Giants to win on the Fox NFL Sunday pregame show, and why game analyst Troy Aikman predicted New York would deliver its finest performance of the season.
Forget that Carolina was going for 14-0 and its 18th consecutive regular-season victory. And that the Giants were under .500, having lost a preposterous five times after leading in the final two minutes.
Anyone riding the G-train had to feel foolish Sunday as the Panthers jumped to a 35-7 lead. Maybe not as foolish as Beckham felt after dropping a perfectly thrown bomb from Eli Manning that would’ve gone for a touchdown on the Giants’ opening possession, but still. Carolina was monstrously good in building that lead. Newton passed for all five touchdowns on a day he ended with 340 yards through the air and 100 on the ground – the second time ever an NFL quarterback went 300-100 double live gonzo.
The magic of these Panthers was crystallized during the second quarter after Newton, with the game tied 7-7, took a massive hit from defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins on a third-down incompletion. First of all, Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie dropped what should’ve been an easy pick-six on the play, a shining example of the team’s season-long habit of wetting itself. But Newton ran off the field in serious pain, with an injury – chest? ribs? shoulder? – that had to make Panthers fans choke on their barbecue.
But Superman shook it off. We’ll find out in the coming days just how hurt Newton is, but all he did from there until halftime was hit Greg Olsen and Devin Funchess for MVP-worthy touchdowns. Did we mention the Panthers have outscored their past seven opponents 95-5 in the second quarter? Obscenely good.
It almost was a comeback for the ages. Had the Giants won the game, they’d have joined the 1980 San Francisco 49ers as the only NFL teams to win regular-season games after trailing by 28. Credit Eli Manning – and Beckham, who, after catching zero balls in the opening half for the first time in his career, belatedly pulled his head out of his ass – for coming close. But that’s the difference between the Panthers and all those teams people keep picking to beat them.
The Panthers just don’t lose.
Beckham beat Norman for the tying touchdown with 1:46 to play, what seemed at the moment like a possible reprieve for a guy who killed his own team by not playing to win until the latter stages. But Newton took the Panthers offense right down the field for a winning field goal, even launching his hurting body downfield for a key 10-yard scramble.
We’re now looking at two games – at Atlanta and at home against Tampa Bay – that stand in the way of the Panthers’ can-you-believe-it 16-0. This should be the story going forward, and it will be. But victory No. 14 will be remembered for the antics of an opposing superstar who behaved like a drunken meathead in a bar at 2 a.m. The 6-8 Giants will continue their sorry quest for the playoffs, possibly without their best player.
Holy hell, Odell. Have fun with this mess you created for yourself.