EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- This isn't about dancing or one-handed catches or fancy cleats with tiny Christmas presents on them that light up when you walk. There's no doubt Odell Beckham Jr. is a lot of fun to watch. Few things in this world live up to the hype, and the New York Giants' dazzling second-year wide receiver has so far been one of them.
But the angry, aggressive and violent behavior in which Beckham engaged for the bulk of Sunday's 38-35 Giants loss to Carolina was despicable. It should have been stopped by coach Tom Coughlin or the game officials, and it cannot be allowed to continue into the future.
"Players like that don't deserve to be in the game," Panthers cornerback Josh Norman said of Beckham. "I mean, it's ridiculous. I understand you want to play, but let's play within the confines of the league rules."
What Beckham did Sunday went well beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior. Teammate Prince Amukamara defended him as a player who "wears his heart on his sleeve" and "loves the game of football," and he said the antics with Beckham were "the cost of doing business." But I respectfully disagree with Amukamara, and I expect the NFL will, as well.
Beckham threw multiple, obvious punches after plays. He tore off after opposing players at full speed to deliver shots after plays. He smashed Norman's helmet with his own. He was flagged three times for personal foul penalties and should have had more. After watching Beckham play Sunday, I'm no longer sure what a player has to do to get ejected from an NFL game.
"We have made great progress along those lines," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of Beckham's ability to control his temper. "Today was a step backwards, but I've got to believe we will regain that once he settles down, and we'll be able to talk about it."
That has to be the hope. Teammates said Beckham apologized for his behavior and the penalties during halftime and during the game, and it's likely that Beckham will be more contrite and responsible when he talks to Coughlin than he was when facing questions from reporters about his behavior. But he certainly didn't sound like a guy who understood that he was out of line.
"I've learned throughout my life, the second man always gets caught," Beckham said. "It's just unfortunate."
Bull. And he knows better.
This is a player who spoke multiple times during the offseason about how important it would be to not let opponents make him angry. When I interviewed Beckham in June for a Sunday Countdown feature, I asked him what he would do if he were a defensive coordinator trying to stop him and he said, "Try and make me mad, I guess." He knows that this is something of which he needs to be careful. He presented it, unsolicited, as the only thing that can stop him. And on Sunday, any effort he had ever made to control it vanished in an ugly mess of punches and penalty flags.
"We had discussed prior to the game what the expectation would be, and he thought that was all behind him, but he did lose his composure," Coughlin said. "Throughout the course of the game, he regained it."
Eventually, yes. And he did manage to beat Norman for the game-tying touchdown, demonstrating one of the reasons Coughlin decided not to bench him in spite of admittedly considering it. The other reason, Coughlin said, was that, "He's got to learn at some point how to deal with some things on the field."
He absolutely does, or else his so-far-unstoppable locomotive of a career runs the risk of derailment. He is sure to be fined for his on-field actions, as he was for the Buffalo game earlier this season; so he's on the league's disciplinary radar. Opponents will see this tape and know the way to beat Beckham is to rattle him and make him angry, and they'll continue to try to do whatever Norman did to park himself under Beckham's skin.
Most of Beckham's opponents aren't as good as Norman is, so this isn't usually an issue as he's running past them. But he's not going to smoke dead-eyed defensive backs with double moves every week the way he did in Miami on Monday night. Great as he is, whether he knows it or not, there are going to be times when things get tougher for Beckham than they've been so far. If this is the way he deals with challenges, then he's going to be thought of as a dirty, violent and angry player. And why would anyone want to lace all of the fun and brilliance he brings with any of that?
"This is about the Panthers versus the Giants, and everyone has to remember that," Panthers receiver Jerricho Cotchery told ESPN after the game. "Between their age and guys creating fan bases and all these things going on, it's becoming more about individuals. We'll correct it on our end."
The Giants' coaching staff has generally done a good job, so far, of correcting it on their end. This game was the first of its kind for Beckham this year. For his sake, it had better end up being a warning sign, and he had better end up heeding it. Because Norman is right that players who throw punches don't belong on the field. And if Beckham keeps throwing them, eventually someone's going to make him leave it.