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Technical Knockout: Josh Norman, Carolina Panthers Get The Best Of Beckham, Giants

Jeff Siner
Charlotte Observer

Charlotte Observer

For a guy who rides imaginary horses coming out of the tunnel and talks of going to his “dark place” against opposing receivers, it’s telling that Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman was the cooler head who prevailed in his highly anticipated matchup with New York Giants wideout Odell Beckham Jr.

But that was the case Sunday, when Beckham turned 82,000-seat MetLife Stadium into his own personal MMA ring.

Beckham is a gifted talent who in two seasons has compiled a lifetime of one-handed, highlight-reel catches.

But against the NFL’s best cover corner, Beckham used his right hand Sunday to take swings at Norman (and nickel back Cortland Finnegan) during the Panthers’ 38-35 victory.

Beckham’s most egregious act came in the third quarter, when he peeled back toward the pile at the end of a Shane Vereen run and launched himself at Norman, making helmet-to-helmet contact.

Norman retaliated and both players were flagged for unnecessary roughness. But Norman said Beckham should have been tossed from the game and hopes the NFL comes down hard on Beckham.

“He came back and was hunting. It was just malicious in every way,” Norman said. “When they put it on the film and they go back and review it, I hope the league office takes a look at it and see what they can do. Because players like that don’t need to be in the game.”

Finnegan, who picked up a personal foul in the first half in response to Beckham swinging, says a defensive player would have been ejected for similar actions.

“Did you see the punches thrown? That’s enough said,” Finnegan said. “The NFL has gotta step in right there and do that.”

From the earliest moments of the game, it was clear the golden-haired Beckham was not going to play nice. But Beckham might have gotten too emotional: He beat Norman deep on the opening drive but dropped a sure touchdown pass from Eli Manning.

Beckham dropped another Manning pass and went into halftime without a first-half reception for the first time in his career.

“I don’t know how many balls he dropped. I don’t know how much focus he lost in himself,” Norman said. “But it goes to show what kind of player he is, what kind of game he has.”

The intensity and extracurricular activity ramped up in the third quarter, when the Panthers (14-0) let a 35-7 lead disappear under the weight of penalties. Panthers coach Ron Rivera thought the Panthers lost their composure.

After taking the cheap shot to his head, Norman went to the sideline and said he was checked for a concussion. A couple of plays later, Norman was whistled for a second personal foul – one fewer than Beckham’s total.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin says he’s been working with Beckham on keeping his emotions in check, but conceded Sunday “was a step backward.”

Coughlin says he gave “strong consideration” to taking Beckham out of the game. Rivera says he would have pulled Norman had the Giants benched Beckham.

Instead, Beckham stayed in the game and – Norman’s words – showed a national TV audience his true colors.

“If you’re going to be Michael Jackson and go around and dance and play and do all the other stuff and not be a football player and not train the way you’re supposed to train, it goes to show,” Norman said. “I hope I pulled back the mask, I hope I pulled back the face of what this dude really is.”

Beckham eventually got around to the business of football. He finished with six catches for 76 yards and a touchdown, a 14-yarder over Norman that tied the game at 35 with less than two minutes remaining.

But a few of Beckham’s catches came from the slot – including a 40-yard gain – when he was not matched against Norman.

“What’s his yardage for the day?” Norman said when asked if he’d gotten in Beckham’s head. “I think they had to move him inside a good bit. The one big play he had, it was inside.”

Beckham said little after the game about what he’d done during it, other than to insinuate Norman had been the aggressor.

“Like I said, second man always gets caught,” Beckham said. “Something I’ve learned in life. It is what it is.”

Beckham praised the Panthers defense, mentioning linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and the defensive line. He said nothing about Norman or the secondary.

Even his Giants’ teammates grew tired of Beckham’s act Sunday. Quarterback Eli Manning felt moved to tell Beckham to tone it down.

“Just told him, ‘Let’s get to back to playing football,’” Manning said.

Beckham did. But it was too little, too late.

And Norman, as he has throughout this breakthrough season, had the last word.

Norman said it’s fine if Beckham wants to “dance and prance around like a ballerina,” but he shouldn’t try to be something he’s not.

“It was just crazy, man,” Norman said. “I feel as if he knew what kind of game I can play. But him playing it, it wasn’t as effective as he thought it was going to be.”