Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants warms up during...

Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants warms up during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on Nov. 8, 2015 in Tampa, Fla. Credit: Getty Images / Mike Ehrmann

Jason Pierre-Paul needs no prodding to tell you what he's thankful for this Thanksgiving Day.

"I'm thankful to be alive," the Giants' 26-year-old defensive end said. "In the situation I was in, I could have died. So I'm just thankful to be alive."

Pierre-Paul could easily have been killed the night of July 4, when he set off fireworks in the yard of his South Florida home, something he'd been doing the last several years to entertain kids in his neighborhood. But instead of seeing joy in the faces of the children, one of the fireworks he lit went off before he could get it out of his right hand.

The horrifying explosion left Pierre-Paul badly burned, and he eventually lost his entire index finger and parts of his thumb and middle finger. A gash several inches long on his right forearm had to be stitched, and there are still burn marks on his chest.

Nearly five months after the accident, which spawned sometimes hateful ridicule about putting himself in a position to hurt himself or those around him, Pierre-Paul is playing football again. But more importantly, he is living his life with a renewed and reconfigured sense of self and a greater awareness of and appreciation for what he still has.

The accident left him with a disfigured right hand, but it also gave him a sense of purpose that hadn't been there before. And the one thing that may be most impressive of all from this whole ordeal:

Pierre-Paul has never once wallowed in self-pity.

"I never asked, 'Why me?' '' he said. "Even in this situation, I never asked, 'Why me?' I never questioned God. I just did what I had to do to get back."

Along the way, he found out a lot about himself he hadn't previously known.

"I found out I'm stronger," he said. "My mentality changed. I look at life differently now."

Especially on Thanksgiving Day.

"Being alive, being alive. That's it," he said. "I'm happy to be alive. A lot of people don't say that. Anything can happen. Anything can happen. I'm extra thankful, of course."

Pierre-Paul's family remains in South Florida, so he still had to figure out where to share his Thanksgiving meal.

"I'm just going to be bouncing around at a couple of players' houses," he said. "This is my family. I don't even have to eat or anything. Just some stuffing."

Pierre-Paul's newfound perspective hasn't dulled his desire to recapture the form that made him one of the NFL's best pass rushers during his previous five seasons with the Giants. He continues to be relentless in his preparation, even if he isn't at the level he wants to be.

"My game is getting better and better," said Pierre-Paul, who returned to the Giants' Week 9 game against the Buccaneers. "As time goes on, I'm just getting better and better and will be the old Jason Pierre-Paul everybody knows. Just getting to the quarterback, playing the run."

How close is he to being the old JPP?

"Pretty [long] ways to go," he said. "I'm just trying to help my teammates the best I can."

Pierre-Paul had what appeared to be his first sack in last week's 27-26 loss to the Patriots, but the play was negated by a penalty. But sacks and stats aren't what drives him any more.

"Who cares?" he said of having the sack wiped out. "At the end of the day, it's not really all about sacks. As long as my guys are getting to the quarterback, I'm doing my job."

Pierre-Paul thought back to the lessons imparted by former teammates Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, two fine pass rushers in their own right during the Giants' championship runs in 2007 and 2011.

"Those guys taught me that sacks count, but the reality is that when you can make a team better just by the effort and by being here and guys are pulling for you, that's even better than getting a sack."

He no longer puts sack totals near the top of his list of ambitions.

"I don't have a personal goal," he said. "It's going out and playing football."

He sees the Giants in a unique position heading down the stretch. Even at 5-5, they're still in first place in the NFC East heading into Sunday's game in Washington. He desperately wants to help his team get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

It's getting there.

"I see a guy out there trying his best, trying to get back to where he was at," Pierre-Paul said of his play. "[The accident] didn't stop me. It didn't stop me from getting back here and getting back on the field to play some football. I know there are a lot of things I got to get better at, but it takes time. It's been only four months. Any other guy, I don't know if they'd come back in four months. I'm a little different breed."

It's been quite the journey for Pierre-Paul. No regrets. No self-pity. Just a heartfelt desire to move on with his life and appreciate what he has, not what he's missing.