NOR­MAN VS. BECK­HAM TOP WEEK 3 MATCHUP

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - SCREEN CHECK - Jar­rett Bell jbell@us­ato­day.com USA TO­DAY Sports

Here they go again. Josh Nor­man vs. Odell Beck­ham Jr.

In much-hyped box­ing matches, the se­quel of­ten doesn’t come close to match­ing the thrill of the orig­i­nal en­counter. Maybe that will be the case Sun­day at MetLife Sta­dium, when the matchup between Nor­man and Beck­ham, two of the NFL’s best — with hot his­tory and months of trash-talk­ing hype — head­lines the game pit­ting the un­de­feated New York Gi­ants (2-0) against win­less Washington (0-2).

When they last matched up in De­cem­ber, may­hem broke out.

In the end, it was ad­van­tage Nor­man, who was then a mem­ber of the Carolina Pan­thers. Carolina won the game and also got in­side Beck­ham’s head like some­thing aw­ful. The star re­ceiver be­came un­hinged, and the needling from the all-pro cor­ner­back helped send him over the edge.

Although nei­ther player was ejected from a game marred by re­peated scuf­fling, Beck­ham was pe­nal­ized three times and ul­ti­mately sus­pended for a game for a ma­li­cious hit — he peeled back and went head-first at Nor­man dur­ing one re­tal­ia­tory act.

Nor­man was pe­nal­ized twice dur­ing the game and then fined $26,044 for his two fla­grant fouls.

Now Nor­man’s in Washington, thanks to a $75 mil­lion free agent deal that lets him face Beck­ham twice a year in NFC East games.

Although both play­ers tried to down­play their matchup this week, it’s too late for that. Dur­ing the off­sea­son, they con­stantly ex­changed barbs in a war of words.

Ram­i­fi­ca­tions from the last en­counter were sig­nif­i­cant:

uAd­mon­ish­ment of the of­fi­ci­at­ing crew headed by ref­eree Terry McAu­lay, which let the game get out of hand.

uA new rule pro­hibit­ing teams from bring­ing non-foot­ball-re­lated props to the field, as the Pan­thers were said to incite Beck­ham by wav­ing a black base­ball bat at him as they trashtalked in a threat­en­ing tone dur­ing pregame warmups.

uA new rule that au­to­mat­i­cally ejects play­ers who draw two fla­grant per­sonal foul penal­ties.

It sets quite the stage for Sun­day, with warn­ings firmly in place and height­ened scru­tiny on ref­eree John Hussey and his crew, too.

The pres­ence of Gi­ants vet­eran wide­out Victor Cruz might also be a fac­tor. Cruz was in­jured and not in uni­form for the brouhaha in De­cem­ber. But he’s back as a mentor type who can help calm OBJ down, if need be.

Although a re­port sur­faced dur­ing the week say­ing Washington would align Nor­man to play Beck­ham one-on-one all over the field, it re­mains to be seen if it plays out that way. In the ul­tra­para­noid NFL, strate­gi­cal leaks from in­side the build­ing can of­ten turn out to be smoke­screen games­man­ship.

And, of course, re­matches rarely live up to the hype. Also of note in Week 3:

Who’s hot: Ben Roeth­lis­berger. The Pitts­burgh Steel­ers quar­ter­back heads to Philadel­phia for the Key­stone State bat­tle against the Ea­gles with a pretty good flow. Pitts­burgh is scor­ing 31 points per game, and Big Ben leads the NFL with six TD passes. He’s also dish­ing out ad­vice, sug­gest­ing Ea­gles rookie Car­son Wentz needs to do a bet­ter job of pro­tect­ing him­self when given the chance to pre­serve his body.

Rookie watch: Cody Kessler. He will be­come the fourth rookie quar­ter­back to start this sea­son when the Cleve­land Browns visit the Mi­ami Dol­phins on Sun­day. Kessler was sup­posed to be a long-term de­vel­op­men­tal project. Then in­juries side­lined Robert Grif­fin III and Josh McCown. Rookie passers are 4-1 this sea­son, but Kessler opens against a de­fense that brings so much heat with Ndamukong Suh.

Stat’s the fact: The Pan­thers carry an NFL-long­est, 14-game home win­ning streak into Sun­day’s game against the bat­tered Min­nesota Vik­ings. Dat­ing to last sea­son, they have scored at least 37 points in each of their past five home games. The 1952-53 Detroit Lions were the last team to do that.

FOL­LOW NFL COLUM­NIST JAR­RETT BELL

@Jar­ret­tBell for breaking news and in­sight from the grid­iron.

JULIE JA­COB­SON, AP An official tries to sep­a­rate Gi­ants wide re­ceiver Odell Beck­ham Jr. (13) and Pan­thers cor­ner­back Josh Nor­man (24) on Dec. 20, 2015, as they bat­tle in the first half.

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