NFL

NFL AM: Beckham’s Suspension Upheld

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By the time the New York Giants take the field on Sunday night, their playoff hopes may already be dead. That will depend on the outcome of Saturday night’s game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins. But if the Giants are granted a chance to save their season by an Eagles win, they’ll have to do so without their best player.

After an appeals hearing early Wednesday, the NFL upheld the one-game suspension handed out to New York wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for his actions in last Sunday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers. In that game, Beckham repeatedly tussled with Carolina cornerback Josh Norman and went as far as to charge at Norman at the end of a play and launch himself at the Panthers defensive back, making helmet-to-helmet contact. That dangerous act was likely the impetus for the suspension. In fact, NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino said this week that both Beckham should have been ejected from the game for his actions.

After his appeal was heard by former NFL wide receiver James Thrash on Wednesday, Beckham issued a statement through the Giants apologizing for his actions last Sunday, his second such apology since the incident.

“I owe some people an apology. I wasn’t raised to act like I did the other day. I am not here to make excuses for my conduct. This isn’t about anything that was said or done to me. This is about my behavior, and I am responsible for my behavior. People expect better from me, and I expect better from myself.”

Beckham went on to apologize to the Giants organization, notably the team’s owners, his coaches and teammates and fans of the team, particularly those who look up to him as a role model. But while Beckham was taking responsibility for his actions, those coaches and teammates were rushing to his defense, particularly head coach Tom Coughlin.

“To depict this as Odell Beckham being wrong, and the only one wrong, is not right,” Coughlin said. “It’s not fair, it’s not justice, it’s not the way it was. If you’re naïve enough to think that way, then you better do some soul-searching yourself.”

Coughlin then referenced a pre-game incident during which the Panthers allegedly confronted Beckham with one player holding a baseball bat while others taunted him with homophobic slurs and threatened to end his career. Carolina players have denied those allegations. Practice squad player Marcus Bell, the one who was holding the bat, noted that the Panthers bring the bat on the field for personal motivation while others on the Carolina sideline, including head coach Ron Rivera, completely denied the use of threats and slurs toward Beckham.

“I’m a little disappointed in it to be quite honest because a lot of it has been assumptions and innuendos,” Rivera said of the reports relating to the actions of his players. “Marcus has given me no reason not to believe what he told me. He said nothing. I heard nothing, several of the people that were around him heard nothing, to be construed as something homophobic. So having said that, unless there is an audio or something out there to show me. I’ve seen some of those clips, but honestly those clips, they’re benign. Their people are going to say one thing or the other, their people are going to interpret it the way they want to interpret it…maybe it’s spin control…the truth of the matter is, give me some concrete evidence so I can sit down and get this taken care of. If not, than let’s move on to the next thing, okay?”

The Giants are finding it particularly difficult to move on and Coughlin continued to defend Beckham adamantly on Wednesday.

“There were factors involved, starting in pregame, which are well-documented, which indicate that there was an attempt to provoke him,” the coach said. “He was provoked, he was out of control, he was wrong, there’s no doubt about it. You’d like that that didn’t happen. But the fact of the matter is, if you know that, the situation pregame with the baseball bat (which a Panthers player carried onto the field during warmups), and if you know what occurred at the very beginning of the game, you can understand that there was two sides to this and not just one.”

Despite all that rhetoric, a suspension for Beckham was absolutely the right move. He put a fellow player in direct danger with his actions on the field and was lucky Norman didn’t suffer a significant injury from the headshot. If the league expects us to take their player safety ramblings seriously, they had to take action here. And for Beckham, it’s an opportunity to learn that his actions have consequences and he must keep his temper in check. If he learns that lesson this early in his career and applies it, he’ll be better off in the long run.

That’s why it was surprising to hear Coughlin, once known as an avid disciplinarian, take such a hard line against punishment for his player, but New York’s standing as the season comes to a close may have a lot to do with that. Coughlin even admitted on Sunday that despite Beckham’s actions, he left the wide receiver in the game rather than remove him because he wanted to win the game. That move nearly paid off when Beckham caught the game-tying touchdown. But Carolina went down and responded with a game-winning field goal to make that catch moot.

Now the Giants enter Week 16 with their backs firmly against the wall and without their star playmaker to help them against a Minnesota Vikings team that is looking to clinch a playoff berth themselves. If Washington defeats Philadelphia on Saturday night, the Redskins will win the NFC East, eliminating New York before they even take the field. But if Philly wins, the Giants will have to try and find a way to do the same and keep their hopes alive without Beckham.

Doing so might be quarterback Eli Manning’s greatest challenge yet. The Giants depth chart at wide receiver for this week starts with the much-maligned Rueben Randle, followed by Dwayne Harris and Hakeem Nicks. Manning will have to get some magic out of those three, tight end Will Tye and his running game if the Giants are to have any chance to beat the Vikings. But stranger things have happened both in favor of and against the Giants this season, so if they can overcome these odds, they’ll have pretty good chance come Week 17, with Beckham back in the lineup, to nab a playoff spot.

BRONCOS STICK WITH BROCK FOR WEEK 16

After suffering their second straight loss last Sunday at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Denver Broncos find themselves fighting to remain atop the AFC West, with a surging Kansas City Chiefs team now breathing down their necks.

But the Broncos aren’t yet panicking. So while veteran quarterback Peyton Manning continues to make progress in his recovery from a torn plantar fascia, suffered more than a month ago, head coach Gary Kubiak announced on Wednesday that quarterback Brock Osweiler will make his sixth straight start on Monday night. Denver hosts the Cincinnati Bengals in a matchup between the current No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the AFC, a game that will also go a long way toward determining which team will receive a first round bye in the playoffs.

The Bengals (11-3) are currently in the driver’s seat there, having already clinched a playoff spot. A win on Monday night would lock Cincinnati into one of the top two seeds in the AFC, guaranteeing them a bye while also locking the Broncos into, at best, the No. 3 spot in the AFC. However, Denver has an even bigger threat to worry about behind them.

Kansas City hosts the lowly Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon, and a Chiefs win coupled with a Broncos loss to the Bengals would put KC in first place in the AFC West by virtue of their better divisional record. If that happens, Denver’s playoff hopes would also be in peril pending the outcome of games played by the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets on Sunday. If both teams win, all three would be sitting at 10-5 and the tiebreaker would leave the Broncos on the outside looking in for a Wild Card spot.

That makes Monday night’s game effectively a must-win for Denver and for them to do so, Osweiler will have to break out of his recent slump against one of the league’s Top 10 defenses. Following an outstanding start to his time as a starter, with three straight wins after he took over for an injured Manning in Week 11, Osweiler has come back to earth over the last two weeks in losses to Oakland and Pittsburgh.

Last week against the Steelers, Osweiler was excellent in the first half, where he threw a career-best three touchdown passes and led the Broncos on four touchdown drives for their highest first half point output in years. But after some halftime adjustments by the Pittsburgh defense, he had a woeful second half. As a result of a 7-of-26 passing performance in the second half, Osweiler ended up completing less than 50 percent of his passes, and his fourth quarter interception led directly to Pittsburgh’s game-winning score.

Still Kubiak is showing faith in his young quarterback, so much so that even though Manning has made significant progress in his recovery, he will remain inactive this week and continue his rehab while Osweiler once again takes the reins.

“I think [Osweiler] has done a hell of a job,” Kubiak said. “We need to rally around him and we’ll continue as a group to try to get [Manning] healthy, and he’s doing everything he can to get himself healthy and be available for the team.”

While talking about his quarterback situation, Kubiak did note that Manning had a setback in his recovery last Friday, which contributed to the decision to not try and push him back into a role as either the starter or the backup this week.

“The most important thing is we get him healthy,” Kubiak said of Manning. “We took some steps last week toward doing that — I think a couple of good steps—and then obviously Friday wasn’t a good day compared to the others.”

So the focus turns back to Osweiler, who has been equal parts fantastic and frustrating in his five weeks as Broncos starter. Those two-faced characteristics seem to be split evenly between the halves, as DenverBroncos.com detailed this week:

“Osweiler’s quarterback rating splits this season reflect the first- and second-half dichotomy; he has a sizzling 109.4 first-half rating, but his second-half rating is 44 points lower. His sack rate also spikes in the second half, rising from one every 19.8 dropbacks to one every 9.5 dropbacks.”

The site also notes that the Broncos have been outscored 36-0 in the second half so far in the month of December. If Osweiler can’t shake those second half struggles, it seems unlikely the Broncos escape Monday night’s game with a win over the Bengals. If they fall for the third straight time, it might well put a doomsday scenario in motion that could leave the Broncos out of the postseason entirely. Would that be enough for the team to go back to Manning for Week 17? It would probably depend on the veteran quarterback’s progress in his recovery this week, but it’s certainly something anyone following the Broncos will be thinking about.

RAIDERS SEND EDWARDS TO IR

An Oakland Raiders defense that has begun to surge in recent weeks took a significant hit on Wednesday ahead of the team’s Christmas Eve battle with the San Diego Chargers.

Defensive end Mario Edwards, Oakland’s second round pick in 2015, saw his season come to an early end due to a neck injury. Edwards is said to be seeking further evaluation on the injury, but Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio termed the injury “significant” and expressed some concern for his rookie defender while meeting with the media on Wednesday.

“He had a significant injury,” Del Rio said. “We want to make sure we do what’s best for him first. Just hoping for the best. But really most concerned with him right now. Other things going forward, we’ll worry about that later. But it’s significant, what he has.”

Edwards exited last Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers after the third play of the game, when he appeared to torque his neck strangely while trying to shed a block. He remained out for the rest of the game and initial tests revealed enough damage for the Raiders to sit him for the rest of the season. How significant the damage is and whether surgery will be required remains to be seen.

The rookie defensive end had become an integral part of the Oakland pass rush over the past several weeks and was one of the stars of the Raiders win over the Broncos two weeks ago despite the fact that Khalil Mack and his five sacks got all the attention. Edwards finished his rookie season with 2.5 sacks, but teammates and Raiders observers agreed that number didn’t speak to the impact he had on the team’s defense this year.

“Sometimes I don’t think Mario even knows how strong he is,” Raiders defensive tackle Dan Williams said. “I think a lot of times teams had to gameplan him like they did for Mack. He might have the number of sacks or the stats, but he affects games at the line of scrimmage. They have to account for him because he’s a very powerful guy and he’s got a load of potential he hasn’t even tapped into yet.”

Williams noted that although the injury is said to be significant, Edwards was in good spirits when he visited the Raiders in the locker room earlier this week.

“Mario seemed optimistic, he just had to see what the actual issue was,” Williams said. “He has this thing going on with his neck but we don’t know the extent of the seriousness. But he was walking, talking, cool. Just being his regular self, joking with us.”

The Raiders play their final home game of the season on Thursday night when they host the Chargers. Oakland still has an outside chance to finish this season at .500 if they can pull off divisional wins over San Diego and Kansas City in the final two weeks of the season.

Oakland hasn’t finished above .500 since 2002 when they lost in the Super Bowl, so 2015 will mark their 13th straight year in that department. However, they last finished at .500 in 2011. To do so again in their first year under Del Rio, a building year for the team to be sure, would be a strong step in the right direction for the franchise.

They’ll miss the presence of Edwards in their quest to do so, but for the first time in a long time the Raiders have the depth to account for the loss, and that alone says a lot about how far Oakland has come in a short period of time.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys