EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It’s as if it never happened. Poof. Gone. Odell Beckham Jr.’s shining off-field moment seemingly disappeared like dirt in the wind, evaporating right there on the MetLife Stadium field Sunday afternoon along with the stability of his left ankle.
It has all been detailed by now that the New York Giants lost their top playmaker when Beckham fractured his left ankle in the loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. What was misplaced in the wreckage from that disastrous afternoon when three receivers went down for the season and a fourth is likely to miss this week’s game is that the Giants also were stripped of their heartbeat.
Their heartbeat is Beckham.
That was evident early in the third quarter Sunday when Beckham showed the leadership that has either been lacking or so often overshadowed by the shenanigans. After a three-and-out on their opening possession, the Giants’ star receiver huddled the entire offense on the sideline. He delivered an impassioned and fiery speech that was intended to jump-start the unit.
It wasn’t the first time Beckham had done this throughout his Giants career. It was the first time this season.
“He was like, ‘Man, on this drive I want you boys to show why you all love the game, why you all do this,’” wide receiver Roger Lewis said. “‘This is the drive right here.’”
The Giants marched 80 yards on nine plays the next time they received the ball. Lewis capped the drive with a leaping 29-yard touchdown pass.
“For me to end up scoring a touchdown on that drive, I came back to him like, ‘I’m going to show you why I love this game,’” Lewis said. “That was huge.”
Beckham caught a 48-yard touchdown pass on the Giants’ next possession to regain a lead they held until everything unraveled when he was injured in the final minutes of the game. The Giants lost their fifth straight contest and more -- as Beckham underwent season-ending surgery on his ankle the following day.
“Odell is a leader. Huge leader,” Lewis said. “He’s that guy when things are going wrong, he don’t fold or anything. He’s always up and ready. He’s a leader.”
The Giants now head into Denver on Sunday without their top playmaker, leader and heartbeat to face the league’s top defense. It’s far from an ideal situation. They’re devoid of more than a handful of starters and their most important player.
It's a wonder how they are going to score at all. As if missing Beckham alone wouldn't be enough, Brandon Marshall, Dwayne Harris, Paul Perkins and Sterling Shepard all may be missing from the offense as well.
The Giants have been outscored 68-20 in the two games Beckham has missed over the past three seasons.
But they have no choice but to move forward. Beckham remained hospitalized following surgery as of late Thursday afternoon and there are 11 games remaining on the schedule. He’s in for an arduous rehab process before getting back on the field. That won’t be until 2018.
What the Giants will be missing is more than just the 90-plus catches, 1,300 yards and 10 or more touchdowns that Beckham produced each of his first three professional seasons. They’ll also be missing the energy in their offensive huddle, a popular player and a leader.
It’s no accident that when Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was suspended Wednesday, he visited Beckham at the hospital later that day. Beckham isn’t just an important figure in the wide receiver room, where he was the longest-tenured Giant. He's an important piece in the locker room.
“He’s a vocal leader. He’s always energetic, has a lot of charisma and is a spark plug,” running back Perkins said. “Playmakers and superstars kind of almost have to rile the team. Not everyone is like that. Each team has a designated player.”
For the Giants, that is Beckham. Their quarterback, Eli Manning, is exactly what everyone thinks. He’s the cool, calm and collected aw-shucks Eli. Nothing fazes the son of Archie and younger brother of Peyton.
Manning doesn't scream or yell often. He is the calming influence sometimes necessary when everything is moving too fast in hectic situations. Beckham is the intensity and spirit that is sometimes necessary when the offense is sluggish, which quite often was early in the season when he wasn’t on the field.
The Giants scored 13 points the first two games combined when Beckham missed the opener in Dallas and was limited in Week 2 against the Lions.
The onus will be on players such as Shepard (when healthy) and rookie tight end Evan Engram to pick up the slack with Beckham permanently out of the lineup. Engram said he’s always been the fiery, outspoken one in high school and Ole Miss. He’s optimistic he can fill that void with the Giants.
Shepard is looking forward to the opportunity to be Manning’s go-to receiver. It’s his chance to prove he can be that 1B receiver when Beckham returns next season.
But Beckham undoubtedly will be missed, and it’s more than just his production on the field.
“He’s definitely the outspoken one,” Engram said. “That was the first time he [huddled everyone on the sideline] this year. But he’s always been the juice of the offense -- playmaking-wise and leadership-wise. It’s a huge part. Look at what gathering us together and getting us going did. We literally drove down to score.
“That is leadership. Those are the things that come from stuff like that. Guys are going to have to step up.”
That was the message that Beckham passed along to the remaining receivers. He's talked to most of them over the past few days.
"It’s time to be great," Beckham told Lewis. "He said you have a huge opportunity in front of you. Just do what you do. Don’t do anything extra. Just do what you do at the end of the day. He knows I can do it."