The only decision easier than Monday’s one-game suspension of Odell Beckham Jr. would have been Sunday’s prompt ejection of Odell Beckham Jr.
But that didn’t happen. So Beckham kept losing further control, tarnishing the NFL’s image, sullying his coach’s good reputation and repeatedly attacking an opponent’s head five days before the movie “Concussion” throws the NFL even deeper into its player safety public relations quagmire.
Other than that, referee Terry McAulay’s crew did OK policing the Giants-Panthers game Sunday. At least no one bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear.
The Giants deserve to play Sunday night’s game against the Vikings without 26.1 percent of their completions (91), 35.8 percent of their receiving yards (1,396) and 40.6 percent of their touchdown receptions (13). But McAulay and his crew deserve transparent scrutiny and appropriate punishment as well for allowing a 60-minute temper tantrum that disrespected and embarrassed the game and put other players at risk of suffering the most easily avoidable concussion scenario possible.
We all know Panthers cornerback Josh Norman wasn’t an innocent bystander. He’s an agitator. He had a training camp fight with quarterback Cam Newton. He roughed up Beckham on the second play of Sunday’s game. He got in Beckham’s head, which probably played a part in Beckham dropping a long touchdown pass early. He also got flagged once for unnecessary roughness.
But none of that excuses Beckham. It only exposes him as a risky teammate. Three of his four penalties were personal fouls. There could have been more, including a blow to the head of Carolina cornerback Cortland Finnegan that was inadvertently called on Finnegan and another one that should have been called for taunting on the game-tying touchdown late in the Panthers’ 38-35 victory.
The most disturbing play was the one in the third quarter that’s been shown on a never-ending loop since Sunday. Beckham and Norman are pushing, shoving and swatting each other when Norman leaves the fray to play some football on what was a 19-yard run by Shane Vereen. Beckham loops back into the action, hunts down Norman and delivers a full-speed helmet-to-helmet shot for no other purpose than to injure.
Watching that reminded at least one reporter of the day he sat in Mankato listening to NFL officials detail this year’s “points of emphasis” and ejections that would follow.
One of those points was fighting. Another one focused on the use of insensitive language pertaining to race and sexual preferences. One could have assumed that losing all composure and running full steam with head down into a guy’s earhole on purpose was a hit-the-showers no-no as well.
Beckham’s helmet-to-helmet shot would have been cheap and dirty in the ’50s, ’60s or any other rough-and-tumble era. And yet no ejection.
Some have lumped Giants coach Tom Coughlin into the pool of guilty parties because he didn’t pull Beckham. But that’s not Coughlin’s job.
As long as this is a professional game played by adults, supervised by officials and watched by owners who fire coaches for losing, let’s not fault Coughlin for saying, bluntly, “I want him out there to win the football game.”
When Coughlin isn’t stealing two Super Bowl trophies from Bill Belichick in five seasons, he’s usually on the proverbial coaching hot seat. Memories of winning Super Bowl XLVI are now distant.
In the worst year the NFC East has ever had, Coughlin is in danger of the Giants missing the playoffs for the fourth straight year for the first time in 35 years. Not since the Giants missed the playoffs from 1964 to ’80 have they gone four straight years without a playoff appearance.
Since Coughlin won Super Bowl XLVI, the Giants have gone 9-7, 7-9, 6-10 and now 6-8 and hoping their volatile leading receiver wins his appeal Wednesday and can play Sunday night.
Beckham might have been hurting the Giants against the Panthers through 3 ½ quarters. But keeping him in the game helped the Giants erase a 35-7 deficit. Beckham caught six passes for 76 yards and, in the final two minutes, a game-tying touchdown.
He shouldn’t have been on the field still embarrassing the game at that point. But that’s not Coughlin’s fault. That’s McAulay’s fault.