By Ernie Palladino
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Tom Coughlin was basking in the warmth of his team’s fifth win Sunday when someone brought up the concept of putting Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz on the same field at the same time next year.
“That’d be a good idea,” Coughlin deadpanned.
Whether the 68-year-old coach will be around to plan and witness that potentially dynamic duo is another conversation. The fact is, no matter who coaches the Giants in 2015 following this 5-9 season will certainly be set at starting wide receiver. With Cruz presumably healthy after knee surgery and Beckham coming off a hamstring-abbreviated season in which he still shattered Jeremy Shockey’s 2002 rookie receiving record, the sky is the limit for the Giants’ passing game.
The issue now, however, is saving the ebullient Beckham from himself. His actions after big catches leaves Beckham wide open to the cheap shot borne from an opponent’s frustration and anger.
Perhaps that is why Eli Manning and Coughlin constantly talk to him about staying humble. With so much attention being showered on him, starting with his three-fingered touchdown catch against Dallas four games ago, the receiver might do himself well to tone down his act.
The 3-11 Redskins showed exactly what could happen in Sunday’s 24-13 win, when long-snapper Nick Sundberg blasted him after he stepped over the sideline on a fourth-quarter punt return. Instead of heading back to the field, Beckham popped up and, arms waving, took the Great Circle Route back behind the Redskins’ bench.
A better team playing for a postseason spot might have taken umbrage at that. Perhaps if it happens against the Eagles in two weeks, there will be some sort of nasty payback, especially if Beckham opens the door as he did when he fumbled the final punt of the game. It would have been nothing for a coverage guy to bury him while off-balance.
Lucky for him, the already demoralized Redskins accepted the insult meekly and without comment.
Beckham, of course, had already done enough talking. He would finish with 12 catches for 143 yards and three touchdowns, and extend his rookie record to 972 yards, well past Shockey’s 894. It was his fifth 100-yard game out of 10.
Bashaud Breeland took the bulk of the abuse, though a good part of the Washington secondary also had a taste. His second touchdown propelled him past Shockey as he grabbed a 10-yard slant and zipped through two defenders. A quick end zone slant a play after Breeland broke up a fade Beckham thought he should have caught wound up the scoring with 4:41 left in the game.
Beckham had earlier suckered Breeland into a pass interference call and a taunting call following a 16-yard catch. After handing the cornerback one of the longest days of the Redskins’ inexorable 3-11 season, the receiver left open the possibility that he had indeed climbed into the defensive back’s head and kicked around some of the furniture.
“That’s part of the game,” Beckham said. “Competitors play with passion and loving what you do. You’re going to get frustrated. You do the best you can to not make those types of personal fouls and unsportsmanlike penalties, but it’s a heat of the moment thing.”
Those things are natural. But the ball spinning after first downs and the not-so-veiled insults that tell opponents he’s not happy with just the 15-yard penalty is what can get the wide receiver in trouble and create a tragic consequence. His playing style — fast, athletic, yet too multi-faceted for his own good — is dangerous enough.
There’s no sense in raising an opponent’s ire any more than necessary, which is what Beckham does with his edgy attitude.
Football is a hard enough sport. It would be a shame if some retaliatory cheap shot casts doubt on a Cruz-Beckham pairing next year. The sidetracking of a career touched by stardust would be infinitely more tragic.
He has done a good job so far in keeping things humble off the field.
Now he should work on it between the lines.
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