Odell Beckham Jr., in Win Over Jets,  Reminds MetLife What He Can Do

Odell Beckham Jr., in Win Over Jets, Reminds MetLife What He Can Do

September 17, 2019

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Just past 8 p.m. Monday, as the Cleveland Browns ran onto the field at MetLife Stadium, the grandstand erupted with boos and jeers.

It was a familiar response for a visiting opponent at an N.F.L. game. But, clearly, Odell Beckham Jr., who was jogging alongside his Browns teammates, did not think it was meant for him.

This was his moment and his stage — his first game back at MetLife, albeit against the Jets, since the March trade that ended Beckham’s five eventful years as the cynosure of mostly desultory Giants teams.

Beckham did not wait to be welcomed. With kickoff still 10 minutes away, he bolted alone, away from his teammates as they assembled on the sideline, and headed for the corner of one end zone. Helmet-less, he raised his right hand to his forehead and saluted the fans staring down from just five yards away.

Beckham knelt to the turf, kissed it, then cupped a hand behind his right ear as if calling for an ovation, or catcalls. He got both. The majority of fans, however, seemed content just to watch the show.

And Beckham was there to perform. Smiling, he waved, danced and preened for the crowd.

One young fan held up a sign that read: “My heart’s broken. Thank you, OBJ.”

Relishing the attention, Beckham skipped and twirled in circles. It appeared as if he might never rejoin the Browns on the sideline, but then the ceremonies for the playing of the national anthem commenced. Beckham trotted back to the bench area, and for once, stood motionless.

After that, he ran back to the end zone for an encore. That lasted only 30 seconds or so.

And then, the game began. Oh, yes, the Browns — spurred by two spectacular plays from Beckham, including a dazzling 89-yard touchdown dash — won, 23-3.

Did anyone think Beckham’s return to the New York area after his tumultuous exit six months ago would pass without his version of performance art — both on and off the field?

Within minutes of the start of the game, Beckham backed up his pregame show with his usual panache. Racing down the right sideline, Beckham made a spectacular, overhead, one-handed catch with a defender in tight coverage by his side.

Pushed out at the 4-yard line after gaining 33 yards, Beckham ended up only a few strides from the spot on the MetLife field where he made his best-known one-handed catch, the touchdown from 2014, his rookie year, that made him a household name among sports fans. On that play he snatched an Eli Manning pass out of the air with just his index and middle fingers and his right thumb, his back arched until it was almost parallel to the ground.

Monday’s catch was not so dramatic; nor was it a touchdown. And seconds later came one of those equipment snafus Beckham is also known for. Officials escorted him off the field for wearing something that violated N.F.L. rules.

No, it was not the wristwatch that he wore in the Browns’ opening-game loss last week. (Beckham did wear a pricey Richard Mille watch during warm-ups on Monday, but not once the game began.)

The problem was a visor with a gold sheen. The league permits only one kind of visor, with a pinkish hue. Beckham, who has complained in the past that game officials are unusually strict about his apparel, vehemently barked at an official but was not permitted back on the field until he had removed the visor.

For the remainder of the first half, Beckham had two other receptions, one for no gain when he was gang-tackled by four Jets (big cheers from the home crowd) and a 21-yard grab in the second quarter (no discernible reaction).

The game by then had evolved into a tedious affair, with neither team’s offense finding a rhythm. The Jets, already missing starting quarterback Sam Darnold, who has mononucleosis, lost their backup quarterback, Trevor Siemian, when his left ankle was injured on a tackle by Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett after a pass attempt.

That left the Jets (now 0-2) in the hands of the third-stringer, Luke Falk, who was selected with the 199th pick of last year’s college draft and who had never played in an N.F.L. game before.

Falk (20 of 25 passing, 198 yards) gave the offense some life but could not meaningfully rally the somnolent Jets.

Before the crowd began to filter out of MetLife, there was one last sequence worth watching. On a first-down play, Beckham (6 catches, 161 yards) caught a quick slant pass over the middle at the 23-yard line. He quickly turned upfield, splitting the defense, and then simply ran away from three members of the Jets secondary, who were positioned deep in the formation because they are, in theory, speedy enough to prevent long gains.

Beckham ran untouched into the end zone. Turning to the stands, he extended both arms straight out from his sides and posed.

In that instant at least, Beckham had reclaimed his domain.

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