Odell Beckham Jr. was limited in practice Wednesday, and it remains uncertain if the Giants wide receiver will be available for Sunday’s game against the Titans at the Meadowlands.
That news probably doesn’t trigger as much fear as it might have this time last week, when hearts raced and palms began to sweat when it was learned Beckham wouldn’t play against the Redskins because of a quad injury. The news was bordering on catastrophic. But after a 40-16 roasting of Washington at FedEx Field, the Giants have learned they can win without Beckham, which is one of those baby steps toward changing a franchise that was once so dependent on one guy.
“Teams beat teams,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said, repeating a theme he preached heading into what became his team’s best performance of the season. “At this time of year, I’ll bet there are no teams that are playing with their initial rosters. Teams beat teams, and that’s where guys step up and make an impact in the game in and around injuries.”
That’s what good teams do. The Giants are trying to become a good team. Shurmur is hoping Beckham will be ready for Sunday’s game.
“We’ll know more as the week goes on,” the coach said.
Great, if Beckham plays. That still doesn’t minimize what happened last Sunday, when a number of other receivers responded when called to duty in Beckham’s absence. Tight end Evan Engram, who has battled drops and injuries, caught three balls for 77 yards. Corey Coleman turned the two passes thrown his way into 43 yards, and the two Shepards — Sterling and Russell — each caught a touchdown pass.
Bennie Fowler, listed as the third-stringer behind Beckham, contributed with a 6-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Eli Manning to make it 31-0 in the second quarter. Add in 170 yards rushing from Saquon Barkley, and Beckham was barely missed.
That wasn’t the case a year ago when Beckham’s season ended with a broken ankle in Week 5 against the Chargers. The Giants lost their fifth straight game; they lost their best player; and they lost hope. They finished 3-13 without scoring 30 points in a game all season.
Since his arrival in 2014, there have been times when Beckham has seemed to be the whole team. The Giants were explosive when he was on the field, toothless when he wasn’t. Shurmur doesn’t want it to be that way anymore.
Beckham and safety Landon Collins, who is out for the season after shoulder surgery, are two of the Giants’ top three players. But despite the adversity of their absences, the Giants put together one of their best games of the season.
“That was the result of good preparation and then performing well,” Shurmur said. “The message to the team is, ‘We want that again.’ In order, to get that again we’ve got to make today the best day possible, tomorrow and so on and then on Sunday. That doesn’t guarantee it’s going to happen again. We’ve got to go out and play well again. That’s where the learning comes in.”
The Giants gained 402 yards of offense without Beckham, who probably would have enjoyed a record-breaking day, as poorly as the Redskins played. Yardage figures to be much tougher to come by against the 7-6 Titans, who have won two straight games and four of their past six to stay in playoff contention.
The 5-8 Giants have their own momentum, having won four of their past five. They’ve also won without Beckham, which is something they knew they couldn’t do last year. But now they have Barkley and a group of opportunistic receivers. That bodes well for the rest of this season and the future.
“We have guys who’ve been here and guys that know what they’re doing and you trust,” Manning said. “I feel comfortable with all the guys out there.”
Make no mistake: The Giants hope Beckham will be ready for Sunday’s game. But they won’t panic if he’s not.