ST. LOUIS -- He faked a corner route, which took care of the cornerback in front of him, then he zipped past the safety on what was suddenly a post route, and Eli Manning's pass found him in stride. Seconds later, New York Giants rookie Odell Beckham Jr. was back in the end zone on the tail end of an electrifying 80-yard touchdown catch. And this time, instead of spinning the ball on the ground or doing some bizarre dance, Beckham just handed the ball to the official standing nearby.
"Just celebrate with your team, that's what we're supposed to do," Beckham said. "It feels good when all those big guys are running down 80 yards to celebrate with you. I didn't want to hear anything else."
It had indeed been a cacophonous day in the life of young Mr. Beckham. With eight catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns -- eye-popping numbers that have become routine for him over the past few weeks -- he broke Jeremy Shockey's Giants rookie record for receptions, went more than 1,000 yards receiving for the season (in just his 11th game) and jumped into the top 10 in the league with 11 touchdown catches.
But he also got flagged for a taunting penalty for spinning the ball after his first touchdown. And while he obviously didn't start it, he did admit to and apologize for his own loss of temper that helped escalate the second-quarter brawl that got three players thrown out of the game for fighting.
"He has a little something, a little flair to him, which obviously we like, the fans like and people like, but opposing teams will try to get into his head," Manning said. "He's a young guy. They're going to try to not let him high-step and do his things on the sidelines, and today it looked like they weren't going to let him get away with that and showboat. So he's just got to know, around the sidelines when people can take shots, they're going to."
Beckham's talent is undeniable and formidable. There is no one in the NFL playing the wide receiver position better than he's playing it right now, and Sunday was only his 11th NFL game. He's having dinner with LeBron James and exchanging texts with Michael Jordan. He is a shooting star. But as Manning points out and Beckham readily admits, he's also still a rookie with a lot to learn about life in the NFL. Sunday's lesson was about the manner in which his "flair" has a chance to make him a target for opposing teams.
"Since the first play, it felt as if there were a bunch of hawks all eyeing you," Beckham said. "And we knew it was going to be like that. I was just trying to find a way to keep my composure. It was sometimes difficult today, but I tried my best to keep my head in the game and stay the course."
He said he didn't think spinning the ball after his touchdown should have resulted in a taunting penalty, because it wasn't directed at anyone. But Giants coach Tom Coughlin felt otherwise and let Beckham know about it.
"He finally got flagged for a celebration," Coughlin said. "So I hope that lesson is learned. He will tone it down. He will. He did."
"I didn't quite understand the penalty, but Coach Coughlin addressed it with me and said, 'You know we can't get those,' and I completely understand," Beckham said. "That's just being young and trying to learn the rules of what you can and can't do."
But in terms of post-touchdown celebrations in general, Beckham doesn't expect to stop completely. And he doesn't believe it gives his opponents extra motivation to mess with him.
"I don't think it fuels them; I think it fuels me," Beckham said. "Of course I don't want the penalty, but we're out there having fun. If you get into the end zone, you deserve to celebrate. It's what we work for."
That is completely true. Contrary to the way Beckham makes it look on a weekly basis, it's hard to score touchdowns in the NFL, and celebrating them is perfectly all right. I'm not here to tell Beckham he has to stop dancing or even spinning the ball after touchdowns if that's the way he chooses to express himself.
But the lesson of Sunday is that this stuff doesn't happen in a vacuum, and Beckham has to be conscious of the way his antics are viewed by officials and opponents. Moving forward, he must find a way to walk a line -- to find ways to have fun and be his ebullient self without causing a problem for his team or putting himself in unnecessary danger. It's entirely possible to be a great, thrilling NFL player and still not give opponents a reason to treat you as rudely as the Rams tried to treat Beckham on Sunday. If Beckham can cultivate that skill as effectively as he has polished his speed, hands and route-running, there will be very little that can stop him.