CHARLOTTE, N.C. — An infuriated Pat Shurmur thundered away at the podium Sunday afternoon, balling up his disgust with the game’s officials, interpretations of the weekend’s Odell Beckham Jr.-driven drama, and a final-second 33-31 defeat to the Carolina Panthers into an impassioned message for the Giants’ doubters and critics:
Do not get between Shurmur and his team.
He has his players’ backs, even when Shurmur does not approve of what his player has done — which the coach clarified was the case with Beckham’s controversial comments to ESPN in which the star receiver questioned Eli Manning, the Giants’ heart, Beckham’s role in the offense and even his happiness playing in New York.
“I’m not gonna give the public a pound of flesh on this. That would make me small, not strong,” boomed Shurmur, who said for the record that he “didn’t agree” with Beckham’s comments. “And these are the kind of things, in my opinion, when you have the locker room that we have, that will help galvanize them. Because the locker room took care of it. And that’s all I’m saying on it. Finito. Done. Let’s talk football, not drama.”
Talking Giants football these days without talking drama is difficult, of course, when they seem to constantly intertwine. Sunday capped a weekend overflowing with drama on and off the field and ended in the most gut-wrenching fashion.
Graham Gano’s 63-yard field goal with one second remaining sunk the Giants’ season at 1-4 the same way Jake Elliott’s 61-yarder at the buzzer in Week 3 in Philadelphia last year had buried Big Blue.
This could be different in the long run, though, if the players’ toughness and resilience in this game was indeed indicative of a positive response to this fire-breathing and fair version of Shurmur — and a reflection that perhaps the team’s personality is beginning to mirror that of its hard-nosed new coach.
My favorite postgame comment, one of accountability and character, came from outside linebacker Connor Barwin when asked about the Giants’ bad luck in losing games on 60-plus-yard field goals in back-to-back seasons.
“Just gotta not let them get that far down the field, I guess,” Barwin said with a shrug, of the Panthers driving 30 yards on the Giants defense to give Gano a shot.
That is how winners think.
Hovering over this entire game, however, was Beckham’s questioning of his teammates’ heart and Manning’s ability. And then the interview that ESPN aired in full on Sunday morning poured gasoline on the drama, with Beckham saying that whether he’s happy in New York or not is a “tough question,” followed by: “I love being in L.A. I just like that atmosphere, but this is where I’m at.”
Shurmur had a decision to make on how to handle this on Friday, when he wasn’t even aware of the full interview. And on Friday he appeared unprepared to scold Beckham at all, replying “for what?” when asked if he planned to discipline Beckham. At that time, Shurmur’s lack of criticism appeared to reflect the same-old enabling of Beckham and Giant distractions left unaddressed in significant fashion.
But it turns out the opposite was true: Shurmur behind the scenes was furious. He read Beckham the riot act, and on Saturday, that prompted Beckham to text Shurmur and request the floor to speak to the entire team.
And that lesson taught and learned in accountability, in turn, allowed Shurmur to chastise Beckham while simultaneously elevating him to a position of leadership on the field in Sunday’s game.
That included featuring Beckham in every way imaginable: with a 57-yard Beckham touchdown pass to Saquon Barkley, 14 targets for eight catches, 131 yards and his first touchdown catch of the season, and punt return duties.
“(What I said to ESPN), it had been on my heart honestly since (the) Dallas game, it had been on my heart,” Beckham said. “And I think all the stuff that was built up inside, it came out in the wrong way. And I texted (Shurmur) and I asked if I could have a minute just to talk to the team, because I feel like if we’re not all on the same page, if it’s not all authentic and real, and we can’t understand each other, then there’s always gonna be miscommunication. So to be able to do that was big for me.
“I was nervous to get up there,” he added. “These are your brothers you see every day, but once you’re up in front of all of them it’s a little nerve-wracking.”
Beckham didn’t make the best of all of his chances: he dropped a fourth-down pass in the first quarter, muffed a punt to give the Panthers a special teams touchdown in the second quarter, and dropped a third-quarter touchdown pass in the end zone ripped from his hands by the Panthers’ James Bradberry.
But what mattered is that Shurmur handled this crisis in a constructive way that got Beckham and the Giants to play hard, with no give-up, and to try and build Beckham into a leader, not tear him down as a distraction.
Landon Collins said he liked how Shurmur and Beckham dealt with the situation. He nodded as he was told that some coaches could discipline or suspend players in that spot, rather than handle it as Shurmur did.
“Yeah, yeah. I went through that, so…,” Collins trailed off, an obvious reference to Ben McAdoo.
Saquon Barkley said “nobody on the team took (Beckham’s’ comments) personally” and if they did, “you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror.” The rookie running back, who came out O.K. after reportedly feeling something in his back on his go-ahead touchdown leap with 1:05 to play, said Beckham’s actions “showed his leadership and his character.”
Beckham admitted: “I’m trying to be a leader. This is a position I’ve never been in. I’m trying to grow.”
While Beckham did admit fault, though, the first comment he made after Sunday’s loss was: “I don’t regret anything that I said. If it took that for us to come together as a team like we did today, I could take that every single time.”
The reality, however, is that Beckham should regret it. He should not have done an interview in which he questioned Manning and his teammates and playing in New York that publicly. He should not have put himself in that position. It was a bad mistake.
It is clear now that Shurmur told Beckham just that, which is refreshing and necessary. And Eli Manning (22-of-36, 326 yards, two TDs, two interceptions) seemed to brush off Beckham’s criticism without any mind at all.
“No, I haven’t heard anything,” Manning said. “Odell and I have a great relationship.”