By Ernie Palladino
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This has all been a lovely war of words between Odell Beckham, Jr. and Josh Norman.
But if anyone is going to watch Sunday’s Redskins-Giants matchup like many would an Indy car race — wait for the crash — well, it ain’t gonna happen.
Obviously, the incendiary matchup from last year’s Panthers-Giants game will renew itself stragically. After all, why wouldn’t Redskins coach Jay Gruden put the Panthers’ expatriate, his best cornerback, on Beckham for most of the game? And why would Ben McAdoo try to move Beckham to avoid Norman after last year’s fun-filled affair in which Beckham caught the game-tying touchdown against him?
Oh, yeah, there were those four personal foul calls, three of which went to Beckham as the two brawled their way to the bitter end. So the potential for a blowup or four certainly exists.
It just won’t come to that this time around.
Different year, different circumstances.
Start with the rule book. The Beckham vs. Norman featured bout got the league’s competition committee thinking maybe they should do something about curbing on-field behavior that made Cain vs. Abel look like a high school slap-fight. Now, there’s a limit of two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties before disqualification. And don’t think the officials won’t be bashful about calling them.
They’ll have a hand on the yellows before the Giants even get to the line.
It’s not a stretch, then, to think that the zebras could change their vocabulary from personal foul to unsportsmanlike conduct at the first sign of trouble. They’re placing players one flag from expulsion for yapping at opponents. Imagine how easy it will be to nail these two for a fist to the kisser, even if they miss. And a repeat of Beckham’s launch into Norman’s helmet will now certainly get him thrown out of the game under the existing unnecessary roughness rules as it should have — but didn’t — last year.
Norman’s own situation plays into this, too. Last year, by Week 15, he was a member of a cocky team on its way to a 15-1 record and a trip to the Super Bowl. This year, he’s getting a different view of things on an 0-2 Washington team, whose only skill seems to be igniting an internal bonfire against Kirk Cousins.
The visitors dearly need a win if they have any hopes of defending last year’s division title. They didn’t exactly cruise into it last year at 9-7, and this time around they’ll face a 2-0 Giants team with a passing attack far deeper than the 2015 version, which ranked a healthy eighth league-wide despite the team’s 6-10 record.
Washington can ill-afford to lose Norman, a fact borne out by some of its players promising to reign in Norman if he gets out of hand.
They simply can’t afford to lose a key player because he can’t keep his head.
Beckham will have his own reasons for keeping things to the regular hand-checking and shoving that goes with downfield play. He’s being upstaged right now by Victor Cruz’s strong comeback and Sterling Shepard’s outstanding rookie performance. Beckham is a team player, but he’s also got a super ego, and will want to give himself maximum opportunities to build another season of Pro Bowl stats.
Nobody is assured of anything at this early juncture, unlike last year when the Panthers, already playoff-bound by a week, mathematically eliminated the Giants from the playoffs with their 38-35 victory. They’re all important at this point, especially those within one’s division.
Bottom line: these two guys will behave themselves.
Oh, they’ll try to get inside each other’s heads with their own brand of chit-chat, but to get under each other’s skin like last year?
Nope. Too many eyes watching. Beckham will make his catches. Norman will make his plays.
But it’s too important a game for extracurricular tomfoolery.
So enjoy the rest of the week’s verbal war. It’s as close as one will get to a big car crash on Sunday.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino