Commentary

Giants need greatness from JPP

Big Blue needs Jason Pierre-Paul's return to mirror Justin Tuck's 2011 resurgence

Updated: November 18, 2013, 12:09 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Justin Tuck was through expressing his wide-eyed wonderment at the podium, through confirming that Jason Pierre-Paul had indeed called his own home run, Babe Ruth style, when he stopped on his way out of the ballpark to field the most relevant question of the day.

Could JPP's resurgence actually carry the New York Giants to the playoffs like Tuck's return from the near-dead carried them there two years back?

"Hopefully that resurgence is coming," Tuck said, "and he can put this defense on his back and take us to another Super Bowl."

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
AP Photo/Evan PinkusJason Pierre-Paul predicted his pick-six.

Another Super Bowl? For a 4-6 team?

These were giddy, over-the-top times Sunday, if only because a pass-rusher described as a "freak athlete" by his teammates made a freak play to extend a freak winning streak for a franchise humiliated by its freak 0-6 start.

Pierre-Paul rose up early in the fourth quarter with both hands, intercepted a point-blank pass thrown by a third-string Green Bay quarterback named Scott Tolzien, and ran 24 yards into the end zone to give the Giants a two-touchdown lead.

The sight of this was stunning enough. JPP might stand 6-5, with Play-Doh arms that stretch from here to Lambeau, but he's also a defensive end with a bum shoulder and a very recent history of back surgery. So this breathtaking display of great talent and better timing wasn't delivered without its share of pain.

But the sounds attached to the play ended up trumping the visuals. As it turned out, with the Packers taking possession at their own 30, down seven, the Giants' defense was huddled up and talking up the need for someone to make a play.

And then suddenly Pierre-Paul, all of 24 years old, spoke the words of a prophet.

"I'm going to pick this m-----f----- and run it to the house," he said.

Tuck allowed that JPP was known to say "some off-the-wall things from time to time." Jon Beason, middle linebacker, also conceded that this particular Giants huddle wasn't necessarily a circle of true believers.

"A lot of times people think it's just hot air," Beason said. "But sometimes you have to speak it into existence."

JPP walked the talk by walking Tolzien's next pass into a highlight to last forever.

"I've never seen anything like that before in my life," Tuck said.

Actually, Pierre-Paul said he made a similar prediction last year before a pick-six against Dallas, and nobody had cause to dispute his version of those events. JPP used to make big, crazy plays in his sleep for the Giants, which is why the execution of Sunday's interception was far more significant than the spot-on forecasting of it.

Only a few weeks ago, Pierre-Paul was announcing that the guy who took the league by storm in 2011, recording 16.5 sacks in his second season and helping the Giants to a Super Bowl title, was a guy who wouldn't be showing up at all in 2013.

"It really is going to take that whole offseason," Pierre-Paul said of his back issues, "to get back to the old JPP."

Nobody really wanted to hear that, especially the men employing him. Jerry Reese, GM, declared that "JPP can play better, obviously," and the stat sheet kept backing him up. Entering Sunday, Pierre-Paul had managed a grand sum of two sacks in his past 16 games.

JPP didn't get to the Packers' quarterback, either, making it two for his past 17, and it didn't matter in the least. The Giants knew that the 6-2 Tolzien got rid of the ball quickly, but that his release point was relatively low. They knew that if they got their hands up, good things were bound to happen.

Tolzien's three-step drops allowed Pierre-Paul to get into a rhythm, to time his leaps and, ultimately, to time his prediction. The Packers had just scored, and had just sacked Eli Manning on third down to take back the ball. Without the services of Aaron Rodgers, they were threatening to steal this game and effectively end the Giants' season.

JPP wasn't even sure his shoulder was going to allow him to suit up for this one, so he figured he had precious little to lose. In his mind he pointed to the MetLife Stadium goal line the way a certain someone once pointed to the Wrigley Field wall.

"Babe Ruth, hey, well at least you know the ball's coming [in baseball]," Beason said. "He's sitting there, 'Hey, you've got to pitch to me.' Football is a little different."

Football is a lot different, but Scott Tolzien decided to throw a fastball over the plate all the same.

"We needed a play to change the game," Pierre-Paul said, "and I knew I could deliver that play. ... I knew what play it was going to be, you know what I mean? I saw the formation."

No, Pierre-Paul wasn't about to let the harness stabilizing his injured shoulder get in the way of fate.

"You've just got to have the willpower to do it," he said.

The pass-rusher would later sack next week's opponent, the Dallas Cowboys, saying, "We're going to put it on them, man," and promising that there's "going to be a lot of blood spilled out there." If JPP was getting carried away, he had his reasons.

Tony Romo was on deck, the quarterback he suckered last year like he suckered Tolzien on Sunday. "They've got to stop throwing screens on my side, man," JPP said. "I'm too tall for it."

But is he tough enough now to carry the Giants' defense the way Tuck did late in 2011, after Tom Coughlin sat him down before the Christmas Eve showdown with the Jets and implored him to rise above his injuries and lead his team?

Proud and dignified as he is, Tuck has too much mileage on him to do it a second time. And as much as Beason and Antrel Rolle mean to Coughlin's defense, the Giants traditionally win big when their big people hit the quarterback, and hit him hard.

So Pierre-Paul has to be the one. He has to be the second-most impactful Giant over the balance of the regular season, right behind Manning.

"Considering no one has seen JPP have to fight through stuff," Tuck said on his way out of MetLife, "the only question you have about him is his toughness. Not because he's showed anything other than that, but because he's been mostly healthy and has never had an opportunity.

"Now you're seeing what he's made of here. I'm most proud of the fact that JPP is beat up and yet continues to keep working and finding ways to make big plays. That's what sets the good players apart from the great ones, and he can definitely be a great one."

Still desperate at 4-6, the Giants need Jason Pierre-Paul to be a great one over the next six weeks. They need the slugger who calls his own shots to keep hitting 'em out of the park.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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