Gregg Williams took the bait, because of course he did. That's exactly what he wanted to do. He didn't have to. He's a grown man, 61 years old, a coach with 30 years of NFL experience. He could have just let those nasty things that Odell Beckham Jr. said about him go.
But that's not Williams' style. He's a brash, harsh, tough guy who at the very least wants to project the image that he'll never back down from a fight. So when he was asked on Friday about Beckham's accusation that Williams ordered his players to intentionally injure the attention-seeking receiver two years ago, Williams began by saying this:
There was more, of course, and all of it will end up on the bulletin board in Beckham's brain. The mouthy former Giants receiver will use it to fuel his fire when Beckham's Browns play the Jets on Monday night. Beckham's return to New York always figured to be spectacular anyway, especially against a Jets' secondary that's dangerously thin. Now he's surely going to be out to make personal statement, too.
So now that Williams has thrown himself into the mud with Beckham, he better have a way to stop him. That won't be easy to do.
It's not a mystery, really, why Williams, a grown coach, would decide to play such a childish game. Some of it is pride. Williams reputation already took a hit years ago with the famous "Bountygate" scandal in New Orleans, where he was caught on tape instructing his player to injure their opponents. So it wasn't a crazy suggestion when Beckham suggested Browns players had told him that Williams told them to do the same when Beckham played for the Giants and came to Cleveland for a preseason game. That's just not a reputation Williams likes.
The reputation he does like is that of a master motivator, a guy who wants his team to be bullies in his own image. He has to know his Jets secondary is reeling right now after John Brown had seven catches for 123 yards for the Buffalo Bills last Sunday, including the go-ahead, 38-yard touchdown catch when he slipped by Daryl Roberts and a Jets defense that had simply worn down. He knows that they know Beckham is a far more dangerous receiver.
But he wants his players confident. He doesn't want them to be afraid.
So when a reporter began a question on Friday by saying Beckham is one of the most dynamic receivers in football, Williams didn't care if that was a true statement. Before the question was finished, he jumped right in.
"That's your opinion," Williams said. "What's New York's opinion -- the Giants' opinion? What did the Giants do?"
Well, for what it's worth, the Giants traded Beckham to Cleveland because, in part, he was a walking distraction making too much money. Even Giants GM Dave Gettleman, the man who pushed for the trade, would concede that Beckham is one of the most dynamic receivers in the league.
But not Williams.
"Here's the deal," he said. "We have to play against whoever comes out of the huddle every single week. We play whoever comes out of the huddle. We do that every day in practice. There's some of those same kinds of guys here."
Ummm … what? Just where are those Beckham-like receivers on the Jets' roster? Demaryius Thomas is the only receiver on the Jets who has ever had a 1,000-yard season, and that was three years ago. Also, he's been a Jet for all of three days.
Beckham had a pretty disappointing season for the Giants last year, and he still caught 77 passes for 1,052 yards and six touchdowns - in only 12 games. Forget the Jets receivers, though, it's the corners who will be the problem on Monday night. Beckham vs. Trumaine Johnson could be fun if Johnson is at his best. Beckham vs. anyone else? Those are matchups Williams has to find a way to avoid.
Maybe Williams knows something, though - or at least thinks he does. Maybe he thinks he's found Beckham's Kryptonite. Maybe, going against his old Browns team, now coached by the offensive coordinator he matched wits against in practice all last season, he's convinced he's figured out some sort of edge. The world now thinks a motivated Beckham is a danger to rack up 200 receiving yards on the Jets. But maybe Williams is convinced he's got a plan to keep him contained.
Or maybe this is the plan: Fire up his players by battling Beckham publicly. Fire up the likes of safety Jamal Adams, who tweeted "Got your back!" at Williams on Friday afternoon. Maybe in the end that will be enough to turn the tables on Beckham and inspire his players to get the job done.
He better hope so, and hope he hasn't awakened a beast. Because motivating players and boosting their confidence can be a great thing - but only if it works. If Beckham takes Williams' best and rips through the Jets anyway, they'll all learn that confidence - especially the manufactured kind -- can be a very fleeting thing.