EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Though his sack total isn't what it used to be, there is little doubt that defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is back to being a force on the Giants' defense.
Just think back to the Giants' 21-20 win over the Bengals on Monday night.
Pierre-Paul had five tackles, batted down two passes and had two quarterback hurries. The former Bull was on the field for 57 of the Bengals' 58 snaps.
For the season, the 27-year-old has 38 tackles, 11/2 sacks, three tackles for losses, a team-high 11 quarterback hurries and seven passes defended, one shy of his career high in 2010, his rookie season.
There is also little talk these days about the right hand that Pierre-Paul mangled in a fireworks accident on July 4, 2015. He lost his right index finger and part of his thumb. His middle finger is mushroomed at the tip, and his ring finger is swollen.
He has overcome it, though, having a full year to prepare for this season. He played the final eight games last season but never looked comfortable.
"I think that when you play the New York Giants' defense, you have to game plan against me, and just knowing that guys are game planning against me, it is just a wonderful feeling because if they don't, bad things are going to happen," Pierre-Paul said Thursday. "Bad things are going to happen regardless, but it just makes me feel good, and I always had that confidence of just playing football no matter what.
"Even with my hand injury, I still had that mentality. You could have taken the whole thing and I would have been out there with a nub just doing it. That is just the mentality that I have got, man. That is basically it."
Not only is Pierre-Paul playing well, he is excited. The Giants (6-3) have won four in a row and are in position to challenge for their first trip to the playoffs since 2011.
Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said the Giants have a defense capable to taking the Giants to the Super Bowl.
Pierre-Paul didn't hesitate to agree.
"Let's slow down for a minute," he added. "Like I said, our job this year is to just get in the playoffs, take it one game at a time, and hopefully at the end of this run in the regular season, we will be in the playoffs. That is the whole goal here."
Fellow defensive end Olivier Vernon said he spoke with Pierre-Paul before signing with the Giants as a free agent.
"He never complains about anything despite everything he's had to battle," Vernon said. "He goes out there and makes plays. All you could do is respect that. He comes in the building and works hard. He works hard in practice each and every day."
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and linebacker Keenan Robinson said opponents have to account for Pierre-Paul, who been on the field for 634 of the 660 plays for which the defense has been on the field. That's 96 percent.
"I think that people feel him," Spagnuolo said of the Giants' opponents. "That's a good thing for us. When you have to worry about one guy, you can do some other things. I think he's steadily gotten more comfortable. We all realize, as you get further and further into the season, it gets really important. We want it to continue to be important."
Pierre-Paul said he is just playing football.
"You look on film and I am all over the field, man," Pierre-Paul said. "That is something that you can't coach. You have to have a heart, and nobody can give me that. I guarantee you that if you pop in the film, you will see me running to the ball more than any player. I feel that as long as I can do that, I am good."