EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Of the many subplots in the New England Patriots' thrilling 27-26 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the one-on-one matchup of Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler versus Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was particularly fun to watch.
It was a fiery back-and-forth during and after plays, but it was all rooted in respect.
"I met him at the Grammys, and we had a brief conversation," Butler said, noting the two also talked and exchanged compliments after Sunday's game. "We're both out there on the field, playing the same game we love, and both out there competing.
"He'll rough me up, and I'll rough him up. He'll say, 'I got you.' Then I told him, 'I got [you].' We just respect playing hard."
When Beckham scored a touchdown on an 87-yard catch-and-run on the Giants' second play, with Butler in coverage and safety Devin McCourty's poor angle opening up the run after catch, it looked like Sunday had the potential to be a long night for Butler.
But he rebounded and afterward said, "It's not how you start, it's how you finish. ... That was one of the best games I've ever had as a pro."
By day's end, with Butler primarily matched up against him, Beckham was targeted 12 times and finished with four catches for 104 yards and the touchdown. It was Butler who knocked the ball away from Beckham in the end zone ("put your hand in the pocket") on what would have been a go-ahead 5-yard touchdown for the Giants with 2:06 remaining.
"The one thing I noticed with Butler is very quick hands, and his hands were in there on the ball a lot," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
Said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, "They competed. They're two good football players. Beckham, can't say enough about him, how competitive he is.
"Those two guys probably have a lot in common, in terms of their competitiveness, their toughness. They may both be a little undersized, but [they have] big hearts."