EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It took all of one play for Odell Beckham Jr. to get the ball in his hands. He reached high and plucked the football out of the rainy sky with those oversized hands and corralled it as if it were an orange. The play went for six yards but was negated by an Ereck Flowers penalty.
It didn’t matter. Just like that, Odell Beckham Jr. was back, a factor on the football field for the first time in 336 days.
In his first game action since breaking his ankle in October against the Los Angeles Chargers, Beckham looked every bit as good as he did before the injury.
“Yeah, pretty healthy,” head coach Pat Shurmur said, seemingly with a touch of sarcasm.
Beckham caught 11 passes on 15 targets for 111 yards and it could have been a lot more. Quarterback Eli Manning underthrew him on a long completion in the first half and overthrew him on a potential touchdown in the second half of a 20-15 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Beckham was also responsible for another 45 yards in pass interference penalties against the Jaguars.
Numbers from the @obj vs @jalenramsey showdown:— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) September 10, 2018
71 total plays, Ramsey covered Beckham 54 times.
-27 Man Coverage: 6 targets, 4 catches for 54 yards
-27 Zone Coverage: 5 targets, 3 catches for 31 yards
Beckham won vs man, a nice showing for him.#GiantsPride #Giants #Jaguars pic.twitter.com/FTxYZAXPWZ
It didn’t matter that, at times, he was being covered by All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Beckham was the better player. He was creating separation even in that matchup. It was a confirmation of what Beckham’s teammates saw this summer, when Sterling Shepard went as far as saying the Giants’ Pro Bowl receiver looked even better than before the smashed ankle.
This gives the Giants hope that their offense can do more than produce one touchdown (which came on a long Saquon Barkley run) moving forward, when they’re not facing the Jaguars and their dominant front seven, which harassed Manning relentlessly.
“Days like today are going to set our offense up for the whole season,” tight end Evan Engram said. “You watch the tape and see Odell getting open and finding spots in zones, defenses are going to have to account for that. That is going to open up a lot more stuff. It’s definitely good to have him doing that and you can scheme up all day, it’s still going to be hard to stop 13. That was a huge benefactor for us [Sunday] and going forward will be.”
The Giants used Beckham all over the field. He played on the right, left, slot, near the line of scrimmage in two- or three-wide-receiver clusters and even was in the backfield at times. This was all by design, and undoubtedly is a big part of Shurmur’s plan to create optimal matchups for his top playmaker.
Ramsey didn’t follow Beckham into the slot. Beckham did a chunk of his damage out of that spot, including his first reception that went for 24 yards on the Giants’ third possession of the game.
“I thought he competed throughout, put him in a lot of different situations and I think it’s a good idea to throw him the ball,” Shurmur said. “We threw to him a lot and he made a lot of plays.”
There is little reason to believe that will stop moving forward. Beckham remains the team's top receiver. He had more than twice as many targets as any other Giants receiver, and looked more dangerous than anyone on the field.
But there remains one more hurdle to clear in order to prove Beckham 2.0 is an improved version.
“I don’t know, I’m hoping to be better, that’s obviously the goal. When I said [I wanted to see if I was the same player], I meant more from an emotional standpoint. In the past there have been a lot of things that have gone on and I haven’t had the best way of handling it,” Beckham said. “I was hoping there was a moment where I was tested, and I was going to able to see where I’ve grown and how much growth there has been. I don’t know if I need the moment, it’s just something inside that I have grown with.”
It didn’t happen between Beckham and Ramsey, even though there was some talk back and forth. Ramsey got a big hit on Beckham in the fourth quarter and Beckham went right back to the huddle. Ramsey also sought him out after an incompletion on third down in the end zone and had some likely not-so-friendly words, although they exchanged jerseys after the game.
“It is what it is,” Ramsey said of the trash talk after downplaying the one-on-one battle.
On the field they are competitors; off the field they are friends. Beckham even referred to Ramsey after the game as a brother.
What they are both is All-Pro players. Beckham proved that is still the case on Sunday, in his first game back from an ugly injury that ruined his 2017 season.