By Jason Keidel
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A Bronx cheer travels well.
It hopped the Hudson and made its way to the Meadowlands on Sunday, while the Giants were playing some pungent football against the Baltimore Ravens.
The throaty, sarcastic chorus came when the Giants got a first down with about 9:50 left in the first half. It was their first of the game.
It seemed Big Blue was speeding down their fast track down the bowels of the NFC playoff picture, led by a lost quarterback and bipolar wide receiver. Their rookie head coach was getting whipped on the gridiron, film room and on the phone with Mike Francesa. A loss Sunday would have been Big Blue’s fourth in a row and more than likely rendered them hopelessly lost in the suddenly resurgent NFC East, where it seemed everyone — except the Giants — had a winning streak of some sort.
It’s not a stretch to assert that the Giants were playing for more than a win in October. No, this was more than a game against an untraditional foe, with minimal implications.
The G-Men were playing for their season.
And Sunday was more than a score, a result an extra digit under “W.” Beating Baltimore served as a twin tonic for themselves and the forlorn fans who began to wonder why Tom Coughlin was fired in the first place if the team would look exactly the same under the new guy. At least looking at Coughlin would summon fond memories of two Super Bowl titles. All the new guy has is a recycled sound byte with Francesa: “We’re on to Green Bay.”
There’s a big gulf between 3-3 and 2-4. It’s not just the optics. The Giants would not have shaken off another loss, their fourth, at home, to a team that was also stumbling over the last few weeks. Not with the Cowboys running out to 5-1. Not with the Redskins winning four straight. Not while New Jersey borders the state of Wentzylvania.
Sure, the Ravens helped. Jon Harbaugh, the other half of football’s pre-eminent coaching siblings, made some questionable calls, particularly in the fourth quarter, when he eschewed a field goal with his club down just four points and the entire quarter left. But the Giants needed a win, no matter who is to laud or blame.
That final big play was a perfect microcosm of the team and the player. Odell Beckham Jr. dashed diagonally across the middle, snagged Eli Manning’s pass, then found that gear that only the great ones have. Once he secured the pass, Beckham made the Ravens look like they were running on a beach, slashing across the field, darting up the sideline. Done.
But that wasn’t the end, or enough. As if to remind us that he is equally eccentric and electric, Beckham just had to rip off his helmet, force the refs to flip a flag into the air and cost the team 15 yards, giving the Ravens a much better chance to win the game in the final minute. Rather than crown the man and clinch the game, Beckham made the final 1:24 one long Rolaids moment.
The beat writers had to cover this game in pencil, as the headlines switched from Beckham beating the Ravens to Beckham costing the Giants a vital football game, back to Beckham’s singular brilliance, a young man in full.
As always you can’t measure the man with normal metrics. The glittering stats tell one tale — eight catches, 222 yards and two touchdowns. In a single stroke, Beckham tripled his TD total, and gained more yards in one game than he did in any two games combined.
Yet he came dangerously close to costing his team the game. After jerking his helmet from his head, in the ultimate “look at me” moment, he stomped down the sideline, chest-out, basking in the adulation from his friends and fans. Then, of course, he returned to his girlfriend, the kicking net, making pseudo love to it while surrounded by all manner of media, wide smiles and flashing cameras, and Page Six glory. He was hamming it up, making it about OBJ, not the NYG.
But that act is getting old, as are his histrionics. Beckham is just too talented to ignore, trade or forsake. But it’s just silly to assert that the epic mood swings and childish gestures are inevitable, that the penalties are all part of the performance. There’s a reason Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens and Randy Moss don’t have Super Bowl rings. Beckham is equally talented. Let’s hope he’s not similarly tormented.
Beckham shredded the record books before he morphed into Mike Tyson that sunny Sunday against Josh Norman last season. Something changed that day. And it was more than Beckham’s mutating sense of self.
The moment Tom Coughlin and, by extension, the entire team, refused to lecture, mentor or punish Beckham for his behavior, they sent an implicit message that it was OK, that he, not the head coach, was in charge. So Beckham, like any young man, literally ran with it. He was told that the rules didn’t entirely apply to him, that his athletic greatness doubled as an eternal hall pass.
We all need rules. We all need boundaries. We love to think of ourselves as free spirits and free thinkers, as autonomous artists in a crowd of cattle. But in truth we need limits. Without a father, big brother or boss of some kind, we will color outside the lines, hurt the team and harm ourselves.
The Giants celebrated more than their 700th win on Sunday. They saved their season. Hopefully, there’s still time to save Odell Beckham Jr.’s gridiron soul.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel