Odell Beckham was frequently out of control Sunday afternoon. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Sunday afternoon, Odell Beckham Jr. reaffirmed his brilliance as a wide receiver and revealed himself as a coward. Before Beckham caught a game-tying, fourth-down touchdown pass, Panthers cornerback Josh Norman flustered Beckham past the point of petulance and into madness. At his most unhinged, Beckham speared Norman in the helmet from the blindside at the whistle, a gutless, crazed act that should have disqualified him from the remainder of the game. Both the officials and Coach Tom Coughlin erred in letting him continue, and Beckham went and nearly saved the Giants’ season.

During the New York Giants’ 38-35 loss at MetLife Stadium, Beckham turned himself into a sideshow that overshadowed the main attraction of the Carolina Panthers moving to 14-0, two wins shy of an undefeated season. Beckham caught six passes – all in the second half – for 76 yards and snagged the last-gasp touchdown that momentarily completed a 28-point comeback. He also drew three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and contributed to the Giants’ deficit as much as their porous defense or Cam Newton’s dominance.

The battle he and Norman engaged in more closely resembled a cage match than a football game. The NFL presents few athletic equals to Beckham. When he confronted one, he couldn’t handle it. Norman has stifled standout receivers all season. Before Sunday, he held DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, T.Y. Hilton, Dez Bryant and Julio Jones to nine catches and 89 yards combined. Norman is the best shutdown cornerback in football, a primary engine of an undefeated season.

Norman stymied Beckham early with his jamming, physical style. Rather than try to beat Norman, Beckham tried to fight him. After almost every play, Beckham shoved Norman in the facemask and yelled in his face. Norman also uses psychology as a weapon, trying to frustrate receivers and take them out of their game. Beckham showed a startling dearth of mental fortitude.  Beckham didn’t fall into the trap. He dove headfirst.

Beckham caught zero passes in the first half, a first in his dazzling two-year career. No wide receivers can match Beckham’s highlight reel, packed with unprecedented one-handed catches, since he entered the league. Few can match his production. It was shocking, then, to watch a superstar turn into a lunatic. He continued shoving and screaming at Norman on the field. He grumbled to coaches on the sideline.

Beckham finally caught a pass midway through the third quarter, a little swing pass to the sideline that Eli Manning may have thrown him to save him embarrassment. Beckham’s second catch came a couple plays later. After the catch, Beckham grabbed Norman’s left leg and twisted it, drawing another 15-yard flag, his second of the game.

Beckham is used to winning, and when he didn’t, he snapped. On the next play, a run up the middle, Beckham ran straight at Norman and tried to slap him in the face with both hands. Norman dodged the hit and trotted toward the pile-up around the running back. Beckham sprinted from behind, leapt off his feet and drilled Norman in the side of the head with the tip of his helmet.

Norman rushed at Beckham and hit him. Both players drew penalties, and Norman required three teammates to contain. Beckham, though, deserved responsibility for the fracas. Even without his antics from the entire game up to that point, officials could have ejected him. Given his prior conduct, they should have. He lost control over his behavior and presented a threat to the safety of himself and the other team. He was acting like a crazy person.

Given the lack of production and abundance of penalty yardage he piled up, it seemed like an ejection may have done the Giants a favor. Coughlin could have made a stand and benched him, at least for a play. Out of desperation, Coughlin shelved any semblance of standards and didn’t take him off the field even for a snap.

Before the afternoon ended, Beckham gave his coach an undeserved reward. The Giants scrambled back from a 35-7 deficit midway through the third quarter. With little more than four minutes remaining, the Giants took over possession trailing by seven. Two plays into the drive, with the Panthers playing zone and Norman assigned elsewhere, Beckham caught a short pass on a crossing route and streaked down the right sideline for 40 yards.

On 4th-and-5, with the Giants needing a win to keep their playoff hopes meaningfully alive, Manning lofted a pass into the corner of the end zone. Beckham curled around Norman and made a tumbling catch. When he rose, game-tying touchdown in hand, he stomped over Norman’s prone body.

When he returned to the sideline, Beckham jumped on to his bench and cupped his hand to his ear, imploring the stadium to cheer louder for him. The fans obliged, forgiving him, at least in the moment, for his prior nonsense.

What they had forgotten in their excitement was that Beckham, in no small part, would cost the Giants the game. When Carolina connected on a game-winning field goal, it seemed as though Beckham’s late heroics had gone for naught. Really, his no-show in the first half and raft of penalties had helped bury the Giants.

More significantly, Beckham’s spineless hit on Norman unnecessarily endangered another player. He is one of the most breathtaking players in the NFL, a star who possesses the kind of athleticism that drives millions to the couch each Sunday. His spearing of Norman was unpardonable. It is a big deal. The NFL has a tendency to over-punish, but it ought to throw everything it can within the rules of the collective bargaining agreement at Beckham. He should be fined and suspended to the hilt.

Beyond next week, which in a just world Beckham will not participate in, Beckham will be looked at in a different light than before Sunday. His one-handed catches are seared into the collective memory of NFL fans. Now there is another image right next to it, and it brands him as a coward who tried to injure an opponent when the other guy wasn’t even looking. Frustration so often reveals character, and that’s who Odell Beckham is.