How much the former is responsible for the latter will be subject to vigorous debate over the next 24 hours until people forget all about it like Tony Romo’s Mexico trip with Jessica Simpson. (Remember that? For that matter, remember Jessica Simpson?)
The trip taken by mercurial Giants star at the start of playoff week is a subject on which there’s little middle ground. Either you believe the mere suggestion of off-day activities having any correlation with gameday performance is an insulting Media (capital M) contrivance or you believe Beckham left his talents in South Beach and doesn’t particularly care about it because when you take a trip the week of a playoff game it shows where you priorities lie.
As usual, both extremes are wrong and the answer is far more subtle than the “wrong or right” declaration. Four catches for 28 yards and three drops speaks for itself, but it doesn’t matter what you blame that on: Suggesting Beckham’s ill-advised road trip didn’t have some effect on Sunday’s game is the height of naivety and echo-chamber dissent, even though there are good points to be had on that side.
Was Beckham tired? C’mon. An out-of-shape college kid in his fifth year at school can go out on a Monday and be fully rested by Wednesday, let alone Sunday, let alone that Beckham is a 24-year-old Adonis who runs 50 sprints a game and could make one-handed catches with a mitten. Going to Miami didn’t burn him out.
Does Beckham even care? Again, come on. He cares a lot and probably to a fault. The only difference between the trip to Miami and what dozens of other NFL players did on Sunday night is that there’s Instagram evidence of Beckham’s outing. Eight teams played this weekend and surely a handful of guys did it up on New Year’s night just like Beckham — bottle service, women, rain making, 6 a.m. bedtime, the whole deal (maybe minus the frequent-flier miles). No one talks about those nights because no one knows about them. Anyway, would someone who doesn’t care reportedly do this after a game?
We can’t say the same about the Giants’ game-week journey. When pictures of Beckham and some teammates posing shirtless on a boat were posted Monday, it set off an immediate firestorm, the kind for which New York tabloids live and breathe. Before the first retweet of the pic, the narrative was set: If Beckham played poorly against the Packers it’d be because of his mini-vacation. Then the opposing narrative was set: If Beckham played poorly against the Packers and people blamed his mini-vacation, the know-it-alls on Twitter would sanctimoniously mock anyone who thought they were related.
How could you argue they’re not, though? The connection isn’t cause-and-effect but rather a sequential act that led to way too much talk and had to get inside the head of Beckham, which is a volatile, unpredictable place on ordinary days. How much is anybody’s guess. Was he overexerting himself to prove everybody wrong? Was he playing angry and desperate, kind of like he did in the Monday night diva game against the Vikings — the one that launched a thousand hot takes? Did he get mentally tired this week not because of a trip to Miami but because of a reaction to a trip to Miami? Don’t be naive and act like the field is a sanctuary on which Beckham escapes the blowback from his tumultuous week. He was carrying something Sunday.
It doesn’t mean he had a bad game because of it. Frankly, the cold weather (Beckham had never played a game in temperatures anywhere close to those in Green Bay) is a much better scapegoat. But everything Odell Beckham does is intra-connected. If he’d been involved in a fight during practice this week, it wouldn’t be considered laughable to say it might have had played a role in his horrible effort. Same for if he’d had something bad happen in his personal or family life. Neither of those things would have changed his football-playing ability, but it’d be accepted that either could have affected his mindset. Why is a Miami trip that got as much attention as Beckham’s adventures with a kicking net any different? Because it’s frivolous?
Stat heads find comfort in the numbers because they’re uncomplicated. Human beings are anything but. It’s easier to say the trip meant nothing to Beckham than it is to wonder if it might have. Painting the opposition with a broad stroke is easier than trying to decipher the inner working of somebody else’s mind. That stuff matters, though. When Beckham was losing his cool earlier this season (and defended here), the off-field stuff was all anybody cared about. Now it means nothing?
The Giants did their best to make the story go away this week. Coach Ben McAdoo shut down any discussion of it. Eli Manning, showing some of the wit he rarely shows in public, complaining only about the packing jobs done by his teammates. (Jeans and boots on a boat? Ginger and Mary Anne were dressed more appropriately.) Then, on Sunday, they did everything they could to bring it back.
Beckham was targeted a team-high 11 times and caught just four passes. He dropped three balls in the game after having just six drops the entire season. There was the missed touchdown catch that Beckham would have made look easy a month ago. There was another in which he jumped a split-second too early. He had given up late — when an Eli Manning fumble bounced near him, Beckham stood and watched the scrum for the ball. The most important receiving weapon in the NFL stayed holstered, and without it the Giants stood no chance.
It’s not all his fault. LaDarius Gunter was one-on-one with Beckham for most of the game and received safety help for most of it, meaning ODB was double-covered for most of the game. One of his drops was on an overthrown ball that Manning threw under no pressure and into no coverage. And despite what Beckham spent all week saying, the cold changes things. (Maybe going J.R. Smith in the pregame wasn’t the brightest move.)
This was never going to be easy for Odell Beckham Jr. — making a playoff debut in a frozen Lambeau Field and being asked to ignite the offense while completely reliant on somebody else putting him in a position to do so. The boat trip was an act so foolish and so gullible about the concept of perception that it bordered on self-sabotage, almost as if he was giving himself an out if things didn’t go right Sunday. In a way, that’s exactly how it went. Don’t blame me, blame Miami.