JPP opens up to News about his return to dominant form for Giants

Jason Pierre-Paul’s mangled right hand is not pretty to look at it but it has not prevented him from re-emerging as one of the most feared pass rushers and defensive forces in the NFL.

He just won’t let it.

The hand is nothing short of a work of art by his surgeons. The July 4 fireworks accident in Florida last year blew off his index finger and half his middle finger and half his thumb. It didn’t touch his heart and didn’t remove his desire.

And now, for the first time in three years, he was named Wednesday as the NFC Defensive Player of the Week after a dominating performance against the Browns.

Odell Beckham, JPP’s highlight-reel plays calm Giants worry-meter

“You tell me what player you see out here with missing fingers. You don’t see guys like that,” JPP told the Daily News this week. “I’m not taking anything away from any other guys playing football, but that’s the difference between me and all the other guys. My terrible mistake – but I knew had the motivation and courage to come back with the help of God and my family. That’s what makes me strive to go hard every day.”

Jason Pierre-Paul is back to being a dominant force for the Giants defense.

Jason Pierre-Paul is back to being a dominant force for the Giants defense.

(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Pierre-Paul is more motivated and focused and more on a mission to succeed than the happy-go-lucky kid who showed up as a first-round draft pick in 2010. His motivation is off the chart.

Has anything positive come from the fireworks accident?

“Everything positive came out of the situation. I carry myself much differently from when I came in. But over time, that was going to change anyway,” he said. “If you have one focus and you keep your eye on it, great and wonderful things will happen in the end. For all the non-believers, when something happens to them, everybody has insecurities about themselves. I’m out here playing football with missing fingers, but there is no insecurity in me because I am doing what I love. I have nice people around, team employees and teammates who make me feel at home, and as long as those things are happening, you will be okay.”

Jason Pierre-Paul lifts 120-pound dumbbell with three-finger hand

Pierre-Paul came back to play the final eight games last season and was able to pick up just one sack. He played with a cumbersome club on his right hand, which made it impossible to hold his own in the clutch-and-grab game with offensive linemen.

Jason Pierre-Paul sacks Browns QB Josh McCown as the Giants get 6th-straight win Sunday.

Jason Pierre-Paul sacks Browns QB Josh McCown as the Giants get 6th-straight win Sunday.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

This year, the club is gone. He has a custom-made glove for his right hand that has changed the way he can play. After recording one sack in the first nine games – giving him just two in the first 17 games after the accident – he has been unstoppable the last two weeks.

He had 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble against the Bears. He filled up the stat sheet last week against the Browns – okay, it was only the Browns – with a career-high three sacks, forced a fumble recovered by Kerry Wynn, and plucked a Josh McCown fumble out of the air forced by Johnathan Hankins and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown.

Is this as well as he’s ever played?

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“This is the new me,” he said. “I got to adjust to what I’m capable of doing with my hand. I feel this is as well as I’ve played since my new beginning last year. I’m like a rookie all over again.”

Jason Pierre-Paul waits for his teammates to join him to celebrate his touchdown on Sunday.

Jason Pierre-Paul waits for his teammates to join him to celebrate his touchdown on Sunday.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The “tragedy,” as he calls the fireworks accident, cost him plenty.

The explosion could have cost him his life. He survived.

Instead, he is dealing with the millions it has cost him. There’s no need to throw him a benefit because he’s playing for $10 million this season. At the other end of the defensive line from him, however, the Giants signed free agent Olivier Vernon to a five-year, $85 million contract that includes $52.5 million guaranteed.

Giants DE JPP part of fireworks PSA ahead of Fourth of July

If JPP didn’t have the accident, that contract could have been his. He was a more accomplished player than Vernon. Together, they are the best pair of defensive ends in the NFL. It’s not too early to at least wonder what contract JPP will get after the season and if the Giants are going to be able to afford him after paying Vernon so much or whether they will use the franchise tag on him. They will want to keep him – he will only be 28 next month.

Jason Pierre-Paul shows off the damage last October after a July 4th fireworks mangled his right hand.

Jason Pierre-Paul shows off the damage last October after a July 4th fireworks mangled his right hand.

(Julio Cortez/AP)

“I think the way I am playing will take care of itself,” Pierre-Paul said. “So there’s really no talking, negotiating. I just got to come to work, do what I got to do and that will take care of itself at the end.”

JPP has seven sacks for the season. The 5.5 in the last two games is the most he’s had in a two-game stretch in his career. He finished the 2014 season with nine sacks in the final five games. He was in a contract year, the Giants had virtual no chance to make the playoffs down the stretch and he was compiling numbers.

He’s in a contract year again, but he’s putting up numbers in meaningful games and although it would be foolish to say money is not a motivator, he does seem determined to excel playing with a handicap.

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Pierre-Paul had to change his game to compensate for his right hand missing all of one finger and parts of two others. He says it’s “like re-learning the game of football. All the years you play football with 10 fingers. It was hard, it was a struggle. It’s frustrating but you can’t let it frustrate you. I look past my flaws. That’s what I call it. At the end of the day, there is somebody going through worse than what I am going through. I’m just blessed to play the game again.”

JPP returned to play eight games last season, but the club on his right hand slowed him down.

JPP returned to play eight games last season, but the club on his right hand slowed him down.

(Gary Hershorn/AP)

JPP is a leading contender for Comeback Player of the Year. “I haven’t thought about that,” he said. “I didn’t even know there was an award for it.”

He’s trying to set an example for his nearly two-year-old little boy.

“My son can grow up seeing that his dad overcame a horrible situation,” he said.

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He was a huge part of the Giants last Super Bowl title with 16.5 sacks in his second season. What he’s doing now with a compromised right hand is even more impressive. Overcoming a physical handicap will be his legacy.

“It’s totally different,” he said. “It’s never heard of. Never done. You can’t do it, can’t copy, you can’t mimic. I love the fact than I’m a role model to people. I get Instagrams, DMs and Twitter. It helps me play even better. That is motivation for people that can’t be heard and can’t be seen. I speak for them when I am out there playing.”

Pierre-Paul could have given up after the accident. Instead, if the Giants make it back to the playoffs, he will be proud he had his right hand in it.

Tags:
nfl
new york giants
jason pierre-paul
sports injuries

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