MINNEAPOLIS — Odell Beckham Jr. took exception to getting tagged by Xavier Rhodes just after he ran out of bounds, got up, and exchanged a couple of words with the Minnesota Vikings cornerback.
It was a benign confrontation by Beckham’s nuclear standards, but still drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from the officiating crew.
And with that, the message was clear: the extremely talented and extremely volatile New York Giants receiver is a marked man now, his reputation cemented as a player who needs to be closely watched for all the wrong reasons.
“It’s always, it’s just my fault. That’s all I look at it as, it’s my fault. Whatever you want to call it,” Beckham said after having just three catches for a career-low 23 yards in New York’s 24-10 loss on Monday night. “I just have to understand if I sneeze the wrong way, it’ll be a flag, it’ll be a fine. If I tie my shoe the wrong way, it might be a fine or a flag. It is what it is. You have to understand that.”
Playing a position that has long been known for outsized egos, Beckham is following in the footsteps of receivers like Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson and Randy Moss, who made a thunderous return to Minnesota as an ESPN analyst on Monday night.
His talent is undeniable and his production is top notch — Beckham already has more receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns than any Giants player has put up in his first three seasons, and Beckham’s third year is only four games old. But the price the Giants pay for the elite playmaker comes in the form of tantrums, outbursts and penalty flags.
Last year he was suspended for a game after drawing three personal foul penalties in a vicious matchup with then-Carolina cornerback Josh Norman. It also prompted Commissioner Roger Goodell to back a new rule that allows referees to eject a player after drawing multiple personal fouls.
He has already lost $130,000 in salary due to fines and suspensions in his young career and was so unruly on the sideline in a loss to Norman and the Washington Redskins last week that coach Ben McAdoo had to speak with him several times to try to calm him down.
Eli Manning backed Beckham earlier this week. But what should be worrisome to Beckham and the Giants is that officials are watching him more closely than ever now that his reputation as a hot head has been established, and Manning said after the game that his receiver has to adjust.
“He’s got to be aware,” Manning said. “People are looking for him and he’s got to be smart. He can’t afford to do anything that they’re going to call. He’s brought that on himself, so he’s got to be aware of that.”
And there are signs the negative attention is starting to wear on other teammates.
“I’m not answering any Odell, those types of questions,” receiver Victor Cruz said. “Ask me about him as a player, or me as a player or our team, I’m not answering any Odell-infraction questions.”
Beckham wasn’t even targeted until a 9-yard reception on a slant more than seven minutes into the second quarter. Later in the drive, he caught a short pass and was bumped by Rhodes just after he hit the sideline.
His confrontation with Rhodes was a pillow fight in comparison to the haymakers he exchanged with Norman last year, but he still drew a damaging 15-yard penalty that short-circuited a Giants drive, and he clapped sarcastically after referee Brad Allen announced the infraction.
“I’ve just got to know it’s all against me,” Beckham said. “It’s going to be that way. I have to assume that I’m always in the wrong no matter what. That’s something, it’s a tough pill to swallow, but you have to understand it, you have to be able to cope with it and just keep it moving.”
When he reached the sideline, Beckham was quietly pulled aside by receivers coach Adam Henry for a chat and linebacker Mark Herzlich also approached him to try to calm him down.
Rhodes appeared to come unglued as well, needing to be restrained on the sideline by several coaches and later pushed back off of the field by linebacker Chad Greenway after jawing with Beckham.
“Got to keep your composure,” Rhodes said. “He tries to get to you by getting on you, fighting with you and trying to get you out of your game.”
The outbursts from both players were kept to a minimum the rest of the game, and so was Beckham’s impact in the Giants’ offense.
“The refs are looking to call anything, and they’re not looking to call anything the other way,” Beckham said. “You have to know that, you have to know that, you have to be OK with it. Unfortunately you have to be OK with it, but that’s just the position I’m in.”