Urban Dictionary defines the term as a “mode you switch into when doing hardcore activities,” or “an attitude turned on when in a really athletic state of mind” or, put more simply, “to go crazy like Marshawn Lynch does.”
A player in any given sport doesn’t have to be in beast mode all the time. In fact, that might be impossible. But sometimes, guys just have those kinds of games where no one and nothing can stop them. The explosion chasing Hines Ward at the end of The Dark Knight Rises couldn’t even stop them. It’s like being in the zone, but times a billion.
Here are some of the most beast-mode players—and the most beast-mode performances—in recent memory.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't have much to brag about in 2012, but the one bright spot in a 7-9 season was Doug Martin—particularly against the Oakland Raiders.
As an Oakland native, Martin definitely had this homecoming game circled on his calendar, and he made it count. In a 42-32 win over the Raiders in early November, he rushed for an electrifying 251 yards and four touchdowns, all in the second half.
What made this outing even more impressive was that three of Martin's four touchdown runs were from 70 yards, 67 yards and 45 yards. He wasn't squeezing into the end zone here. He was having his way with the Raiders defense, and there was nothing anybody could do to get in his way.
If only he could play the Raiders every week.
Some players love it when the other team gets all the attention leading up to a big game because it gives them a chip on their shoulders.
In this case, there were a whole bunch of players with lots of chips on their shoulders—or, at least, with the intention of proving most of the pundits wrong.
Leading up to this year’s national title game, it was Notre Dame’s D that was getting all the glory. And until then, it deserved the praise. But how would it fare against an offense like Alabama’s, which was far better than any offense it had faced at that point?
Not too well, it turned out.
And meanwhile, Alabama's defense turned in one of its best performances of the season, making the Irish look like the New York Jets. It held ND scoreless until there were about four minutes left in the quarter, and it never even give the Irish a chance of getting in the game.
It's hard to make an undefeated team look like it doesn't know how to find the end zone, but Alabama did precisely that, and it now has a second championship ring to its name.
It seemed that once the pressure was really on the Washington Redskins—once they essentially needed to win out in order to make it to the playoffs—Robert Griffin III started playing his best football of the year.
It wasn't going to be easy for him to carry Washington to the postseason. At that point, the Cowboys and the Giants still looked pretty good, and the Redskins, at 4-6, were still a long way off from a playoff team. Then, RGIII and his team traveled to Dallas on Thanksgiving and showed the Cowboys—and everyone else—that they were a contender.
Griffin's offense scored four unanswered touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 28-3 lead and an eventual 38-31 win, and Griffin finished the game with 304 passing yards and four touchdowns. He had some big moments this season—another one came a few weeks later against the Giants—but this was the critical, decisive statement win that made it clear he wasn't going down easy.
Consistency is still an issue for him, and he still seems to have a lot of maturing to do, but when Cam Newton is on, he is on—opposing defenses beware.
Newton has seemingly been in beast mode since the day he stepped on the field at Auburn. He led the Tigers to an undefeated season and a national championship before becoming the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft.
And in his first season with the Carolina Panthers, the accolades were innumerable.
He set the NFL single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (a record that was broken by Robert Griffin III in 2012), finishing the season with 14 rushing TDs. On the day he broke that record, he was in full-blown beast mode, victimizing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for three scores.
Newton has not yet been able to give the Panthers a serious shot at being competitive, because he can't seem to be in beast mode every single week. But he's still young. Maybe he'll get there. And until then, we're bound to get flashes of brilliance at least a few times every season.
When you are a defensive player and you are one of the leading Heisman candidates, you know you're doing something right. And even though he didn't win that—or the national championship—Manti Te'o still epitomized beast mode for much of 2012.
One of his best moments came when Notre Dame traveled to Norman, Okla., at the end of October. Facing the then-No. 8 Sooners on the road was the Fighting Irish's toughest test of the season at that point, and they passed it not because of their offense and not because of luck, but because of Te'o.
In a 30-13 win that was nowhere near as lopsided as it seems, Te'o kept Landry Jones' offense at bay, holding it to a mere two field goals before the fourth quarter and coming up with the game's key interception to thwart an Oklahoma drive in the fourth quarter. It was his fifth pick of the season and by far his biggest.
Te'o would finish that critical game with 11 total tackles and a sack to go along with the INT.
When you get the cover of Madden, you know you're a beast. And when you get the cover of Madden and then break the Madden curse the subsequent year, you're really a beast.
Calvin Johnson is and isn't the prototypical Madden cover guy. He puts up the kinds of ridiculous numbers that have made him a league-wide fan favorite, but he doesn't seem cocky or self-involved enough to be the best wide receiver in the NFL.
In truth, he just lets his performance do the talking.
In 2011, Johnson was a significant component of the Detroit Lions' offensive resurgence. He finished the season with 1,692 yards and 16 touchdowns with just one fumble, leading the team to the playoffs for the first time in his career.
In 2012, he followed that up with 1,964 yards, but the team's offensive woes and Matthew Stafford's inconsistencies wreaked havoc on his touchdown totals.
But it doesn't really matter. If there was ever a deep-ball threat who had the potential to change a game with one catch, it would be Megatron.
Every front office official would love to have a guy who can put the entire team on his back and carry it to the World Series. The Detroit Tigers have that guy in Miguel Cabrera, who makes opposing pitchers tremble in fear.
When you become the first player to win the Triple Crown since 1967, you know you're doing something pretty special. Cabrera has always been a terrifying presence at the plate, but he kicked it up several notches in 2012. Cabrera hit .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBI, leading the league in each of those categories and propelling the Tigers to the World Series for the first time since 2006.
In addition, he finished 2012 with a .966 fielding percentage at third base—the third-best mark in the league.
Unfortunately, he couldn't carry the Tigers to the title—which they lost to San Francisco—but a hitter can't do everything. Cabrera, however, has done just as much as humanly possible to put his team in a position to win with his prowess at the plate.
Brandon Spikes is one of those players who just seems to exude beast mode. Maybe it comes part and parcel with being a part of the Patriots defense, where focus and intensity are lauded above all else, or maybe it just comes with his personality. You can talk all the trash you want to him—he welcomes it, and then he’ll make you pay.
Take, for example, what he did against the New York Jets on Thanksgiving this year. (Though he tends to be in full-blown bestrode against the Bills, we won't use them as our example because...well, they are the Bills.) The Jets were the second team the Patriots faced in the midst of a critical five-game stretch late in the season—one in which they'd also see Indianapolis, Houston and San Francisco.
It was an absolute necessity that the Patriots defense make a statement, and make a statement it did.
Spikes had seven tackles, a forced fumble and a pass deflection in a game that made the Jets offense look the worst it had been all year.
There was only one way the Houston Texans were going to win in Foxborough on Sunday in their AFC divisional matchup against the Patriots, and it was by getting out to a hot start and putting points on the board early.
They didn't end up winning, of course, but they had a shot—and it was because of Danieal Manning.
The Texans won the coin toss on Sunday and elected to take the ball. They knew what they had to do, and they looked pretty smart for that decision after Manning returned the opening kickoff 94 yards, which led to a Texans field goal. Later, he returned another kickoff 35 yards (plus an additional 15 for a penalty) to help Houston pull within seven.
Manning finished the game with 216 yards on kickoffs alone—the third-most in a postseason game, according to ESPN.com. The Texans may have dropped the game 41-28, but it was Manning—and pretty much Manning alone—who gave them any chance at all.
For all of those teams who have the necessary, Cabrera-esque sluggers to compete but aren't quite up there with the best teams in the league, it's because they don't have a power pitcher like Justin Verlander.
Fortunately for the Detroit Tigers, they have both.
The secret to building a World Series contender is a solid rotation and, in particular, an ace who can perform under enormous pressure. Verlander has proven he is that guy for Detroit time and time again.
In his first full season as a starter, Verlander helped the Tigers to a World Series victory, but he's only gotten scarier since then. In 2011, he was named the AL Cy Young winner and the AL MVP after finishing the year with a league-leading 24 wins and a league-leading 2.40 ERA.
He's the guy who steps on the mound and blows everyone away with 100-plus mph fastballs, and no one is surprised when he exits the game with 12 strikeouts. He's the guy who, as a fan, you hate seeing matched up against your team's batting order, but can't help but be dazzled by what he can do on the mound.
For a long time, Eli Manning was a joke. He was Peyton Manning's little brother and nothing more. He was the guy who refused to play for the San Diego Chargers.
Now, Manning is known for being the catalyst behind his team's two very unlikely Super Bowl runs.
Something happens to Manning in the postseason. Something clicks. He tunes out all the pressure and all the talk, and he becomes a future Hall of Famer for those three or four games.
It's not to say he's not good for the rest of the season; he's just a whole new level of good in the playoffs.
Back in 2007, he upstaged Tom Brady and his perfection-seeking Patriots. Manning was most impressive on a last-minute touchdown drive in which he connected with Plaxico Burress for 13 yards to give New York a shocking 17-14 win.
And it was like deja vu in 2012. After the Giants had scored six unanswered points in the third quarter to pull within two, Manning engineered a game-winning, 88-yard touchdown drive and scored with less than a minute remaining to give the Giants a 21-17 Super Bowl win.
Not only did Manning knock off two of the best New England teams in recent memory, he also proved that you can never count out the underdog, no matter what.
For the last decade, we've been hearing all about how much better the SEC is than the rest of the college football world. On the first day of January, Michigan got to experience that firsthand, courtesy of Jadeveon Clowney.
Sometimes, defensive linemen don't get their due, but in this year's Outback Bowl, Clowney made certain that he would get his when he registered a ginormous hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith midway through the fourth quarter of a game the Wolverines led 22-21. Clowney came up with the ball and the Gamecocks promptly scored the go-ahead touchdown.
He would finish the game with five tackles and one critical play that pretty much won it for South Carolina.
You don't become one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA and a five-time NBA champion without knowing how to get in the zone and make even the best opponents look silly.
Kobe Bryant may be getting older, and his current team may be one of the most embarrassing in the NBA, all things considered, but just a few years ago, he could still get the job done, all opponents be damned.
In the 2008 NBA finals, Bryant let the Celtics get the best of him and the Lakers, It certainly wasn't his fault—that was just the way the ball bounced—but he took it personally. And when players like him take things personally, it ends badly for the rest of the league.
For the next two years, the Lakers won the title. But particularly impressive was Bryant's performance against Boston in 2010. Still smarting from his team's loss to the Celtics two summers earlier, he averaged 28.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists during the finals.
RGIII had a big year this year, but Russell Wilson had a bigger one. It didn't matter that he was a third-round draft pick or that his Seattle Seahawks had been one of the NFL's laughingstocks for the last several years. He turned them into one of the NFC's best teams, and after his performance against Washington in the Wild Card Round, it was no longer debatable.
It took Wilson a while during that game to get his bearings. Maybe it was the time change or the West Coast-to-East Coast thing, but he didn't let the Redskins' early momentum get to him.
After Washington took a 14-0 first-quarter lead, Wilson turned it on like he so often does. While the defense held Washington scoreless for the rest of the game, his offense put up 24 points, and he passed for 187 yards, rushed for 67 and threw for a touchdown.
It was Wilson's composure and confidence that helped the Seahawks get to the NFC divisional round, and it was his knack for orchestrating the unthinkable play that almost led them to a shocking win over the Falcons.
This year, he proved he has the focus to turn the Seahawks into a contender for years to come.
It's hard enough these days for hockey players to become household names. When you're as scary as Alex Ovechkin, however, it becomes much easier.
The four-time All-Star and two-time Hart Memorial Trophy winner has been one of the most productive players in the league since making his debut with the Washington Capitals in 2005-06. From 2007-2010, he tallied well over 100 points each season, as well as 50-plus goals in each of those campaigns.
The records he has set during his career are numerous: He had the most goals by a left winger in 2007-08, when he had 65, as well as the most points by a left-wing rookie in 2005-06, when he finished with 106. And he's still only 27 years old.
What makes Ovechkin truly terrifying is his presence on the ice. He may not have tons of fans outside his own city, but his ferocity—and his willingness to drop the gloves—is what makes him one of the NHL's scariest players. That, and the fact that he can always back up his fighting words with his performance on the ice.
The best players are the ones who are able to enter beast mode on the biggest stages, when the whole world is watching and a win is more important than ever.
Alabama running back Eddie Lacy had one of those games in the national championship against Notre Dame.
In the 40 days leading up to this year's title game, we heard too much about Notre Dame's defense. We heard about how good its line was against the run, how it simply refused to let any team score on the first possession of the game—or, really, any other time.
How did Lacy respond? By rushing for a 20-yard touchdown less than three minutes into the game, becoming the first player this season to score on the Irish defense on the game's first drive.
He would finish the game with 140 yards, but it was his early score that made it clear to ND—and to the rest of the world—that Alabama was in it to win it for the second straight year.
Throughout the first couple of rounds of last year's NBA playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs were the hottest team, no question. They were old, but maybe it didn't matter, because nobody could compete with them.
Until the Oklahoma City Thunder woke up.
We knew it was going to be a battle between OKC and San Antonio, but through the first two games, it was one-sided. The Spurs took a 2-0 lead in the series and looked like they were going to cruise straight to the NBA Finals.
But then Kevin Durant stepped in.
When you have one of the best—if not the best—players in the league on your side, anything can happen, even when you're down 2-0 and have zero momentum in a critical playoff series. Durant proved that, but especially during the Thunder's final four games of that series (all wins, of course). He averaged nearly 30 points per game, plus 7.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and a block. He willed his team to the finals.
Somehow, prior to last weekend’s NFC divisional matchup between San Francisco and Green Bay, there were still people claiming that Alex Smith should have been starting instead of Colin Kaepernick.
They probably feel pretty silly right about now.
You never know how a rookie quarterback is going to react in his first postseason game. The adrenaline, the pressure, the level of competitiveness—all of it can be a bit jarring. But not for Kaepernick. Not only did he give his team a chance to win, but he personally delivered the win.
Green Bay’s defense wasn’t bad heading into this matchup, but Kaepernick made it seem that way. He picked the perfect time to have his best game of the season, throwing for 263 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for a playoff-record 181 yards and two touchdowns—including a 56-yarder—to lead San Francisco to a second straight NFC title game.
Nobody's asking about Alex Smith now.
He's the original beast-mode man himself, and finally, this season, he got to see his hard work pay off in the form of a playoff berth.
With his first team, the 2007 first-round draft pick gave the Buffalo Bills their first-ever 1,000-yard rookie rusher. And after being traded to the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, his production didn't diminish in the least.
He started 15 games in 2011, rushing for 1,416 yards and 13 touchdowns. In 2012—the first stellar year the Seahawks have had in a long time, thanks to an offensive resurgence led by quarterback Russell Wilson—Lynch complemented the passing attack with a career-high 1,786 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Lynch is the guy who can't be stopped, who can bowl over lineman after lineman and fight off tackle after tackle and stomp all over anyone and everyone in his way on his way to the end zone. Just look at how many tackles he broke in the 67-yard touchdown above.
In an age in which running backs have trouble sustaining excellence over a multitude of years, Lynch has been the exception.
For much of his career, LeBron James had a hard time proving he could enter beast mode—at least in the playoffs against elite teams. It took him a while to shed that monkey from his back, but he did it at the most significant, most crucial possible time.
It was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics last June. The Miami Heat had somehow gone down 3-2 in the series and needed a win at TD Garden to stay alive. Would they overcome on the road, or would they drop the series in shocking fashion to the old, decrepit Celtics?
Rumor has it, Kevin Garnett's infamous trash talk was the final straw that pushed LeBron into beast mode—at least, according to Jalen Rose. But after LeBron put up 45 points—including 30 in the first half—plus 15 rebounds and five assists, it was impossible to say LeBron couldn't go there, to the place only elite athletes can reach.
There were times in which it seemed like there was no one else on the court except LeBron—that's how bad he made Boston's defense look, and that's how easy he made it look.