Jason Pierre-Paul’s regular season ended with surgery to repair a sports hernia Wednesday morning. But the Giants want to make sure he can get back on the field this season.
To do that, they have to make the playoffs and possibly even win a game or two in January.
“We were down,” safety Landon Collins said of the mood upon hearing the news on one of the team’s best players, “but we know if we keep playing the way we’re playing and keep winning games, he’s going to be back and be on the field with us. If we play like we’re down and not come with it, he’s going to be down even more because we’re not going to be in the playoffs.”
Pierre-Paul is expected to miss four to six weeks recovering from the injury, which he suffered late in the first half of Sunday’s loss to the Steelers. Six weeks would mean a possible return to a potential NFC Championship Game. That does not faze the Giants. “That’s the goal,” Collins said. “To get him back and let’s get this championship.”
There is a chance, though, that he could return sooner. If anyone can, he seems to be the guy to do it.
“JPP is an X-man, he’s a mutant,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “The dude came back from blowing his hand off in four months. He blew his hand off and was playing in a football game four months later. I mean, that’s a mutant to me. So I think the guy’s going to be back, and the better we are the deeper we get in January and February, which is the ultimate goal, of course. Hopefully, we can get him back.”
In the meantime, the Giants will have to rely on a cadre of young, relatively unproven players to replace him at defensive end. Kerry Wynn, a third-year player, has the most experience after starting seven games last year. Undrafted rookie Romeo Okwara will see more significant playing time. Second-year end Owa Odighizuwa is dealing with a knee injury and was limited in Wednesday’s practice but also could lend a hand.
Then there is linebacker Devon Kennard, an intriguing option given his play at defensive end at USC and his handful of snaps as a down lineman on passing downs this season.
“We’ll use an all-hands-on-deck approach,” Ben McAdoo said. “It won’t be easy to do . . . You can’t expect one person to jump in there and fill his shoes. He’s a very talented player.”
Pierre-Paul had 7.0 sacks this season, 5.5 in his last two full games. He also has been strong against the run all season.
Even if the Giants can find someone — or a group of someones — to replace that production, they’ll still lack what can only be described as the essence of JPP. He wasn’t having the best season of any Giants defender, but he most embodied the personality of the unit. He’s the only defensive player to have won a Super Bowl with the Giants, and he was looked to for leadership and wisdom.
“You don’t know how much of an impact a guy has on and off the field until they’re not there anymore,” defensive tackle Damon Harrison said. “He’s a great locker room guy. He was the one who brought everybody together.”
It’s an impact that doesn’t only affect the defense.
“It’s unfortunate when a guy like JPP goes down, someone who, since I’ve been here, I’ve looked up to,” wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. “Need advice or whatever the case may be? He’s always been there for positive reinforcement. Whatever you need out of him, he’s always there for you.”
Casillas is the captain of the defense, but even he cedes authority to Pierre-Paul.
“He’s one of our older soldiers who have been here,” Casillas said. “I don’t care where you came from (as a free agent), or if you came from college, you know who JPP is. That’s just the truth. You know he plays for the Giants. You know he’s a (terrific) pass rusher. Everybody knows that. It’s tough when you don’t have that figure in the locker room anymore.”
At least not for a while.
Harrison said he had already texted with Pierre-Paul by Wednesday afternoon and that the defensive end was in good spirits.
“As soon as he can get back out there, he will,” Harrison said. “Trust me, if JPP can be back out there this year, he will be.”
It may not be entirely up to him, though.
“I guess,” Harrison said, “we have to play well to be able to see our teammate again.”