Jason Pierre-Paul said he can barely remember any details from his last trip to Cowboys Stadium, where he was a one-man wrecking crew in the Giants' stunning 37-34 comeback win last December that kept their playoff hopes alive. Two sacks, including one for a safety. A forced fumble. A blocked field goal to save the win at the end.
"I don't know," Pierre-Paul said when asked what he remembers from the game.
But if Pierre-Paul was a little fuzzy on the details yesterday, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell recalls the performance in such vivid detail that it's as if he's looking at the game tape.
"It was one of those games where he was on," Fewell said. "He had a sack for a safety in the ballgame, he had another sack off a three-man rush in the ballgame. He blocked a field goal in the game. It seemed like every run play, he was there to make a tackle. I think he just played at a high level and he was in one of those zones where he just played lights out. He was playing everything the way it should have been played."
It was a defining moment for a player who hadn't received much attention outside the New York market until then. The Sunday night game was televised nationally, and Pierre-Paul's profile was markedly higher as a result -- even among his peers. When Ravens All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis recently was asked which defensive player elicits the "wow factor," he pointed to Pierre-Paul.
But Pierre-Paul's performance already was appreciated by his teammates, especially in that 2011 game. I asked Mathias Kiwanuka afterward if it was a stretch to put Pierre-Paul's play on the same level as Taylor's, and he said it was not. "I don't think it's too early to put him in that category," he said. "He's developing into one of the great players in this league, not just on this team."
The Giants hope Pierre-Paul flashes those qualities in Sunday's visit to Dallas. His production this season hasn't been quite as prolific as many have expected. Pierre-Paul has 4½ sacks in seven games, well off the pace of last year's 16½-sack season.
Three weeks ago, Pierre-Paul said he wasn't having as much fun this year, in part because of the increased expectations coming into the season and because of the increased attention being paid to him by opposing teams. Asked again yesterday if he's having fun, Pierre-Paul replied, "I don't know. Next question. I don't know."
Why not answer the question? "I just don't want to answer it," he said. "I'm just going out there playing football, just running around like a kid."
A curious reaction, perhaps, although Pierre-Paul said he's beginning to adjust to the increased double-teams used against him.
"I think this year, things have changed, but I'm getting used to it," he said. "Things have changed the way [teams] have blocked me, but through it all, you just have to find ways to get to the quarterback and stop the run."
As far as Fewell is concerned, the diminished sack numbers don't necessarily reflect a drop-off in performance.
"JPP plays at a very high level," Fewell said. "For him to have the numbers that he has [in the past], to produce those numbers consistently, that's a little bit unrealistic. But he has the capability to do that. So when I look at the tape, sometimes I just see him dominate, and it might not show up in the statistics but it shows up on the coach's tape, where he's just dominating the football game."
Pierre-Paul does have three sacks in the last two games. With defensive tackle Chris Canty back from a knee injury, Pierre-Paul isn't being asked to play as much inside as he had been. That means he can get into a better rhythm lined up outside, where there is more room to establish his pass rush.
And now the Giants are hoping for a repeat performance against the Cowboys.
"I'm hoping we can put him back in that zone when we go back to that stadium," Fewell said, "so he can play that way again."