EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman turned Panthers-Giants into a private but very public four-cornered zoo on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium. The officials let them do it. Their teammates let them do it. Their head coaches let them do it.
Of that group, the head coaches were the most scandalous.
Tom Coughlin, the Giants mantra of old-school professionalism, admitted Beckham lost his composure and that he thought about pulling him. He did not, "Because I wanted him to play the game. He had to learn. He's gotta learn at some point how to deal with some things on the field."
Nonsense. Beckham had three personal fouls, and on one play he peeled back and went head-hunting for Norman and dove head-first toward him and a pile of Panthers. Of course Coughlin should have sat him down for a quarter, a series, something, anything.
Ron Rivera, the top Panther in charge: "No, no, I wouldn't of pulled him (Norman) out. Josh has got to learn to play through these things. He's such a talented young man. He's very emotional and he's got to learn to maintain his composure and play through those types of situations."
And then Rivera said he would get around to talking to Norman, to talking to his team about this, say, on maybe Monday or Tuesday. Likely Tuesday, he added.
Both let the circus go on and on and it was most defeating for only one of them.
The deep pressure, fire, stress and anxiety -- especially on Beckham and Norman and on these coaches -- was tangible. They were so restless, so tight, so intense that they could barely think straight. The Panthers were seeking a perfect season. The Giants were seeking to save their season.
The Panthers won, 38-35, and improved to 14-0. The Giants are a 6-8 mess but are still alive in the NFC East.
The larger question here was the one about maturity and composure, about who has it and who does not. How this game that they coach and play is supposed to be a spectacle absent of incessant and petulant clutching, grabbing, pushing, shoving, jawing, foul play, dirty play and stupid play, orchestrated by Beckham and Norman.
It started early in the week, the two eyeing each other from afar, chirping trash. Anticipation built of their matchup -- Beckham the vibrant receiver and Norman the unyielding cornerback. Two young, flamboyant players meeting at a curious NFL intersection.
Afterward, as you would expect, each pointed fingers at the other on who was worse in foul play and why.
Here is what it meant for the first half: Beckham caught zero passes. Carolina led 21-7 at halftime and 35-7 late in the third quarter. Beckham clearly took all of that -- and Norman -- severely personally.
Panthers cornerback Cortland Finnegan was beyond annoyed by it all.
"He's (Beckham) a f----- coward," Finnegan said. "That peel back play where he dove at our guys, he should have been ejected for that. Josh shut him down. And from what I saw in that game, that's a guy I wouldn't want to be around. He thinks he's tough. He's not tough. You saw it!"
Beckham, when asked if he was worried about being ejected, said: "No. We are out there playing football, we are competing. You are a competitor; I'm a competitor, we are always going to go at it. Anybody who has played sports -- you are competitive and you are going to go as hard as you can."
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had his take: "You've got two bulls going at it. Like I said, this is a physical sport, and you've got a field full of alpha males, they're not going to be playing `patty cake' out there, I'll tell you that."
Norman had the best take: "He (Beckham) was out there flashing and dancing and carrying on. I think the first play I kind of saw what kind of person he was. And hey, it's a show here. But you play as a team, not as an individual, you can come through with success and we did that. The guy took a shot at me I don't know how many times. If you take a shot at a guy's head, I mean come on now. I know you get a little rattled, that's cool. But if that's not your game, don't play somebody else's game. You're not gonna win."
Here the Giants were trying to revive their season and it became something else. A sideshow. A carnival. A 35-7 deficit. It led to turnovers and missed chances, a dropped touchdown pass by Beckham and a dropped interception by cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a pile of mistakes defensively and missed opportunities throughout in bunches.
Anyone who thought the Giants had to play the "perfect" game to beat the "perfect" Panthers was wrong.
All the Giants needed to do was make the plays that were right in front of them, right in their hands. They failed to do that. They lacked confidence in their execution. And they looked awfully distracted by the game within the game -- the Beckham-Norman drivel.
"I really like the battle with him and Josh," Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "It was like Floyd and Pacquiao. It was a great matchup."
No, it was one where your teammate was repeatedly flagged for personal fouls and didn't even show up in serious production until the fourth quarter in a furious but futile comeback.
How Coughlin could allow Beckham to meander and sulk and help kill his team's chances like this is puzzling. Even Coughlin afterward acknowledged when asked if emotional parts of Beckham's game could derail his team: "Sure they certainly could. As I said, we have made great progress along those lines. Today was a step backward. But I got to believe we will regain that once he settles down, we'll be able to talk about it."
Once he settles down? Seriously?
The Giants believe that the fire and emotion that Beckham exudes is what helps to make him such a grand player. They do not want to kill it. I understand that. But there are moments it should be stabilized. There are moments it should be shut down. This fiasco here on Sunday was one of them. The Giants act like they are walking on very thin eggshells with Beckham. Why? And, especially, why Coughlin?
Beckham helped get the Panthers riled, got them involved, and by the third quarter and into the fourth quarter they were "losing their composure," Rivera said. They were fully chomping on the bait. The Giants were ruling the fourth quarter.
And then a peculiar thing happened. The team that has won them all regained its composure. Came back full circle. Said to heck with the theatrics. They put the pressure back on the Giants and went full assault on the Giants defense. They drove from their 26-yard line to the Giants' 25-yard line in the final 1:40 to win on Graham Gano's 43-yard field goal as time expired.
Newton was a fortress of composure in that drive. For the game, he threw for 340 yards and five touchdown passes. He ran a compelling eight times for 100 yards. His composure, leadership and contribution were giant all game, but especially in the final drive that won it.
People are calling the Panthers the worst unbeaten team in history. The Panthers hear it and hate it. This is a team that dives into details. They know how to be physical. They can identify composure. The Giants cannot.
When times get sticky, the Panthers live in it.
No team can win them all without that.
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SB Nation presents: Best and worst of Week 15, from Cam Newton to Odell Beckham Jr.