Browns' Odell Beckham Jr. impresses in return, even though wide receiver says his legs never felt right
CLEVELAND — Odell Beckham Jr. described himself as so exhausted after his first game back from a major knee injury that he lost his voice without even screaming.
Beckham also repeatedly said he felt as if could never get his legs underneath him Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“You don’t have the same bounce,” he said.
Well, the star wide receiver had other members of the Browns fooled in their 26-6 win over the Chicago Bears — Beckham's first game since he suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Oct. 25 against the Cincinnati Bengals and underwent surgery Nov. 10.
“Oh, he's back like he never left,” running back Kareem Hunt said. “I told him that. He looked great out there, man, and I'm looking forward to seeing many more.”
Beckham played 52 of the offense's 81 snaps (64%). He caught five passes on nine targets for 77 yards and added one carry on an end around for 10 yards.
OBJ jumped into the stands in pregame warm-ups and received a loud ovation during player introductions.
“The first time in a very long time, a lot of emotions, a lot of things running through you as you're back out in the stadium,” Beckham said. “It’s still the dream to be in the NFL and play in this game, so it was a lot to take in today. It just felt like I could never get my legs going. It’s just exhausting. But we came out with a W, and that’s all that matters.”
Beckham came out of the game healthy, too, relatively speaking. He said one of his shoulders popped out and back in — “football stuff” — after he absorbed a hit for the first time in 11 months. It happened on the game's second play from scrimmage when quarterback Baker Mayfield's short pass over the middle intended for Beckham fell incomplete after linebacker Roquan Smith had hit OBJ.
“Needed it. Just needed it,” Beckham said of feeling contact. “Actually, first hit came on a pass that I didn’t catch. Shoulder popped out, and I was like, ‘All right, of course, something like that would happen.'
“It was good to feel that and get back into it, and then the game went on and it was a little bit smoother.”
Mayfield and Beckham entered the game with the second-worst completion rate (54.6%) of any quarterback-receiver tandem with at least 150 attempts since 2019, when the Browns (2-1) acquired Beckham in a trade with the New York Giants, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
But Beckham said he “absolutely” felt a good connection with Mayfield against the Bears (1-2).
“We hit a couple throws — things I could definitely work on,” Beckham said. “For the first game back, I feel like I could never get my legs underneath me, so it was definitely a tough game, but I got my feet wet, glad to get that one out the way, 1-0 and move on to next week.”
A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Beckham gained five first downs — four on catches and one on his lone carry. He had two receptions result in third-down conversions.
“He did a nice job,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “He made a couple of nice plays for us. I don't know the exact number of plays he played, but I know he was productive in the pass game. I think it was good for him to get out there and help his team win.
“He worked very hard to get back here. Any guy who is coming off an injury and coming off of an offseason surgery, it's not easy. He pushed very hard, and I was proud of him out there.”
Stefanski said he, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea were in constant communication on the sideline to ensure they didn't give Beckham more plays than he could handle.
“I’m one of those people that I will go as much as I can go,” Beckham said. “It’s hard for me to sit out. But anytime I needed a break I wasn’t hesitant to take it. I pushed it, but I gave everything I could for today.”
Beckham's 26-yard catch along the right sideline against the coverage of Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson wound up being the Browns' second-longest play. The longest was Hunt's 29-yard touchdown run with 14:46 left in the fourth quarter.
Browns All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett set a single-game franchise record with 4½ sacks and joked Beckham was more tired than him after the game.
“He looked good,” Garrett said. “You saw him. Those hands are immaculate, and the guy’s a hell of a route runner, so just love being able to watch him.”
The Browns needed a lift with five-time Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry sidelined. They played Landry on injured reserve Tuesday with the sprained medial collateral ligament he suffered in last week's 31-21 win over the Houston Texans. By rule, he must miss at least three games — Sunday against the Bears, Oct. 3 at the Minnesota Vikings and Oct. 10 at the Los Angeles Chargers.
Beckham honored close friend and former Louisiana State University teammate Landry before the game, donning a “Juice Landry” T-shirt while warming up.
“It just seemed fitting,” Beckham said.
Mayfield mentioned Landry the first time he was asked about OBJ.
“Obviously, losing a guy like Jarvis, one of our key skill players, you have to have people step up,” Mayfield said. “So it was a blessing to have the late registration of Odell come in and play for us.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.