ASHBURN — Call it the topic no one really wants to discuss.
Not Redskins cornerback Josh Norman. Not Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. Not Eli Manning or Kirk Cousins. Not Jay Gruden or Ben McAdoo.
One of the NFL’s ugliest on-field incidents in recent memory shadows this week’s pivotal NFC East game between winless Washington (0-2) and the unbeaten New York Giants (2-0) at MetLife Stadium.
By the end of that Dec. 20 game in New York against the Carolina Panthers, Norman’s former team, Beckham had been whistled for three personal foul penalties, including one after he got a 10-yard running start and smashed into Norman’s helmet. It was not subtle.
For his part, Norman was fined over $26,000 and had two personal foul calls of his own. The Giants also claimed that Carolina players waved a bat at them before the game and hurled homosexual slurs at Beckham. Norman later denied that ever happened. But there was enough ugliness that day to go around.
“I think it’s a one-time deal,” said McAdoo, the Giants head coach who was offensive coordinator last year. “I think they’re two great competitors. They got caught up in the moment. We have to trust them out there and give them a chance to compete the right way.”
The hope is those fireworks won’t be renewed. McAdoo said he has had “conversations” with Beckham about keeping his composure this time. Gruden said he hasn’t addressed the topic with his Redskins players because he can’t imagine anything carries over.
“That happened last year on another team with a different situation,” Gruden said. “This is a brand new year, [Norman is] on a brand new team. He understands his importance to this defense. Odell I’m sure understands his importance to the New York Giants, and I think that’s in the past, quite frankly. I don’t think anything has to be said or done. I think they’ll be fine. It’s football.”
Still – caught feelings die hard. After that hit Norman could be audibly heard by on-field FOX microphones telling his Carolina coaches that he would “punch [Beckham] in his face” and let out a ferocious scream as teammates tried in vain to calm him.
“God tells us to forgive all, so I’m working on that,” Norman said. “But I have moved passed it. That was last year and I think that things that happened in the past stay in the past, whether they’re here or not. I’m sure he didn’t want it to happen just like everybody else didn’t, but it did. Our feelings about it really doesn’t matter, to be honest with you.”
The Redskins were rankled by an ESPN report on Wednesday that Norman would shadow Beckham on either side of the field on Sunday – though not if he lines up as a slot receiver. Norman professed he “didn’t get the memo.” In the season opener against Pittsburgh the Redskins kept Norman to the left side of the field only as wide receiver Antonio Brown torched the team’s other cornerbacks. Sunday against Dallas star Dez Bryant, Norman eventually switched sides to help slow him down.
Whatever the case, Norman and Beckham will see each other often on Sunday in New York. Last year’s game got out of hand and both saw their reputations lose some luster. No one is predicting a rehash. But the uncertainty and tension remains.
The feud continued into the summer. Beckham took shots at Norman in a GQ magazine article and the two traded barbed tweets back and forth. Neither claims to want the attention. Yet it’s almost all anyone is talking about.
“It’s been a lot that’s happened since then,” Beckham said. “That was a lot that happened at the time period of my life. You take the good and the bad and you learn from it. That’s how you grow and improve yourself as an individual and a human being. You take the life lessons and you learn from it.”
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