TAMPA — Jason Pierre-Paul wore a club over his right hand, a thumb-less oven mitt which protected a fracture in one of the three or so remaining fingers he didn’t lose in a July 4 fireworks accident six years ago.
His right shoulder, which also forced him to miss the two previous games, was heavily taped.
The Bucs outside linebacker was expected to ease back into the lineup as a rotational player Sunday against the Dolphins on a hot day at Raymond James Stadium.
Instead, he logged 41 of Tampa Bay’s 54 defensive snaps (76 percent) in a 45-17 win over Miami.
An emotional leader, Pierre-Paul’s teammates don’t cover their ears when he is ranting and raving but rather seem to take heart.
“It ain’t no secret, I’m a guy who’s had a lot of injuries and knows how to battle them,” Pierre-Paul said. “It is what it is, the game of football. I came in 100-percent healthy. This is what it is now, I’ve got to battle this out, like every other injury I’ve had. Shoulder still hurting. Finger, broken finger, split in two pieces. There ain’t much of it as it is, but hey, I still have to protect myself.
“I think for me going out there and showing the resilience I’ve got ... this is what it takes to win Super Bowls, man. I’m a part, a living testament of it, and I know what it takes. If I’m able to go out there and, you know, 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent me and do my job the way I do it with a little bit of pain, hey, I’ll take the pain. It just makes it that much sweeter when you get to the top.”
On Sunday, the Bucs were missing three starters in the secondary, and linebacker Lavonte David joined them on the list with a sprained ankle.
Even so, they managed to hold an opponent to 17 points in a game for the second week in a row. After allowing the Patriots minus-1 yard rushing a week ago, they limited the Dolphins to 39 on only nine rushing attempts.
As usual, it wasn’t good enough for Pierre-Paul, and he let everyone know about it on Monday.
“We still have a lot to prove, man. I think us as a defense, people don’t respect us like they should,” Pierre-Paul said. “In order for them to do that, we’ve got to go out and prove we’re nothing to be messed with. I think we haven’t proved that yet.”
Pierre-Paul’s ability to overcome serious injury and remain among the league’s best pass rushers is legendary.
A July 4 fireworks accident in 2015 when he played for the New York Giants resulted in the amputation of all or parts of three fingers on his right hand. Doctors were focused on just trying to save the use of his hand, but Pierre-Paul’s career not only survived, he thrived with 15-1/2 sacks over the next 28 games.
In his first year after being traded to the Bucs, he led the team with 12-1/2 sacks. Prior to the 2019 season, Pierre-Paul suffered a fractured neck in a one-car accident. He still managed to record 8-1/2 sacks in 10 games. Last season, he led the Bucs with 9-1/2 sacks and was named to his third Pro Bowl.
On Sunday, Pierre-Paul was expected to split reps with rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, who recorded the first two sacks of his career against the Patriots.
“My coach said I was supposed to be playing 50 percent, but I know when it’s actually game mode, you don’t count snaps,” Pierre-Paul said. “You go out there and play whatever it is. I don’t look at it. I just go out there and do my job. That’s it.”
The Bucs also have a couple rush packages where Pierre-Paul, Shaquil Barrett and Tryon-Shoyinka play together.
“Especially with that heat (Sunday), it was a good mix,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “JPP probably would have had a couple more sacks. He couldn’t quite get (Miami quarterback Jacoby Brissett) down on the ground with the club, but he’s played with it before. But, man, he brings that energy that we always miss.”
Pierre-Paul, who is in the final year of a contract that pays him $12.5 million, says Tryon-Shoyinka is more advanced than he was at the same point in his career.
“To be honest, Joe has progressed,” Pierre-Paul said. “He’s going to be a great player in this league. Like I said earlier, way before at training camp, he’s ben doing things I couldn’t do as a rookie. ... He doesn’t know how it’s going to go. You’ve got to be ready when your name is called.”
The Bucs rank tied for 16th in the NFL with 10 sacks. Pierre-Paul still is looking for his first. It’s coming, even if he has to do it one-handed, with two good fingers.
“Every game is important, because you never know when you’re going to get your time to play in that game or when your next snap is going to be, so you’ve got to take every game for what it is,” Pierre-Paul said. “That’s how I do it.”
• • •
Sign up for the Bucs RedZone newsletter to get updates and analysis on the latest team and NFL news from Bucs beat writer Joey Knight.