The hit that gave the Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. a sprained ankle was legal. But was it dirty?

New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. sprained his left ankle during a controversial play in an exhibition game against the Cleveland Browns on Monday night.

As Beckham was coming down with a pass from quarterback Eli Manning in the second quarter, Browns defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun hit him around the knee with his helmet and shoulder, taking Beckham’s legs out from underneath him and causing the superstar to fall hard to the ground.

The tackle was perfectly legal, according to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert. Beckham was considered a defenseless receiver in this case, but that classification protects players only from hits to the head and neck with the crown of the helmet.

Still, while it was within the rules, the tackle proved to be controversial because it happened during a meaningless game.

Beckham seemed upset with Boddy-Calhoun after the play and appeared to spin the ball in the opposing player’s direction while getting back on his feet. After trying to walk and jog off the injury, Beckham headed to the locker room to get his leg checked, stopping once while crouched over on his knees in apparent pain.

The three-time Pro Bowler spent the second half on the sideline in street clothes and seemed more at ease about the incident the Giants are calling an ankle sprain.

“I don’t know. It’s just football, I guess, preseason,” Beckham told reporters after the Giants’ loss. “I’m not really the judge. It’s just football, in my opinion.”

Others weren’t so laid-back about the situation. Giants safety Landon Collins confronted Boddy-Calhoun on the field before the next play.

“I said he was wrong for what he did,’’ Collins said. “He said, ‘It is what it is.’

“I’m gonna say it just like this, I couldn’t have a teammate next to me playing that way. I can’t condone it. It’s nothing I seek. He had the opportunity to go out and make a different route. That’s how I feel about it.’’

Boddy-Calhoun said he was trying to play by the rules.

“I’m just thinking, ‘Hit him low, make sure I don’t get no fine or nothing,’ ” he said.

“I was just trying to hit him low, hit him in the target area, which is from the neck to the knee, just anywhere in there, but I wasn’t aiming at anything specific or anything like that.”

Browns Coach Hue Jackson said after the game: “I don’t think any of our players try to do things maliciously. It’s tackle.”

charles.schilken@latimes.com

Twitter: @chewkiii

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