The premier game within the game during last night's epic between the Pats and Giants took place between Malcolm Butler and Odell Beckham, Jr.
The 5-foot-11 corner and the 6-foot wide out went toe-to-toe for 60 minutes, beating the hell out of each other up and down the field by trading punches, catches, pass breakups and by matching an unreal level of competition between two players that refuse to give up an inch on the field.
Beckham got on top early when he beat Butler down the sideline and took advantage of Devin McCourty taking a brutal angle in coverage to spring an 87-yard touchdown in the first quarter...
...And that's all he got the rest of the night.
Through the remainder of the contest, Beckham was held to just three catches on 11 targets for 17 total yards. Butler recorded a game-high three pass breakups and shut down one of the best receivers in the game by sticking to ODB like glue.
On the definitive play of the game, it was Butler who smacked a touchdown grab out of Beckham's hands that would've put the Giants on top by five, with a sure two-point conversion attempt to follow. Instead, with the breakup just before the two minute warning, it forced the Giants to again misplay the clock and eventually settle for a field goal. It gave Tom Brady just enough time to work his magic and set up Stephen Gostkowski for the game-winning kick with just one second left in the game.
"It's not how you start, it's how you finish," said Butler postgame. "That was one of the best games I've ever had as a pro.
"He'll rough me up, and I'll rough him up. He'll say, 'I got you.' Then I told him, 'I got [you].' We just respect playing hard."
"Those two guys probably have a lot in common, in terms of their competitiveness, their toughness," said head coach Bill Belichick. "They may both be a little undersized, but [they have] big hearts."
We've seen Butler progress and develop through this season as the team's #1 corner, and Sunday at MetLife was the player at his best by far. Matched up against one the best in the game, Butler responded and erased ODB from Eli Manning's arsenal, forcing the QB to dish the ball to other targets on the field.
Except when Manning tried to go back to his favorite target one last time, Butler was again there to make the play, just as he did virtually the entire game.
Photo credit: CBS New York