CLEVELAND — Officially, it was a fumble return. But don’t tell that to Jason Pierre-Paul.
The Giants defensive end is sticking with the initial scoring ruling on his 43-yard return for a touchdown in Sunday’s 27-13 victory over the Browns.
“It’s still an interception, man,” he said afterward, only half-jokingly. “How else can you get seven points? The ball never touched the ground, so we’ll call it an interception.”
Forgive Pierre-Paul, but after what he has been through in the past 17 months, he wants to squeeze every bit of satisfaction out of his playing experience.
More and more, he is beginning to resemble the force he was before blowing off part of his right hand in a fireworks accident in July 2015. But Sunday was a revelation.
Pierre-Paul finished with three of the Giants’ seven sacks, forced a fumble and recovered the one that bounced out of Browns quarterback Josh McCown’s right hand as he was hit by Johnathan Hankins early in the fourth quarter.
The touchdown return gave the Giants a 20-6 lead.
Pierre-Paul said he never doubted he was going to score, just as he did on his two career interceptions, which he ran back for touchdowns in 2012 and 2013.
“I’ve proven it twice,” he said. “This is my third time, so I’m going to the end zone. I’ve been there before a couple of times. The main thing I was thinking was, I have to get back and get my breath to go back out there [on defense].”
Would he have been able to pluck the ball out of the air last year, when he played with a large, bandaged club on his right hand?
“Yeah, a year ago, I could have caught it with the club,” he said. “It probably would have been harder, but I would have caught it. I recovered fumbles a year ago, about three or four, right? (Actually, two.) See, you forgot all about that.”
It was difficult to tell whether Pierre-Paul was annoyed or just being playful. But he has earned his right to gloat. “I’m playing some great ball; that’s all there is to it,” he said.
Said fellow end Olivier Vernon, “He’s been playing like a monster.”
Pierre-Paul became the first player since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 to have at least three sacks and a fumble return for a touchdown of more than 40 yards in the same game.
He had missed practice time during the week because of a sore knee, but he said he did extra mental preparation that helped Sunday.
Pierre-Paul credited coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and position coaches with creating the circumstances under which the defensive line has begun to assert itself, with the sack totals rising at last.
But does JPP feel he is proving something personally?
“I’m not proving anything,” he said. “I told y’all last year when I came in, I already won. For me, it was just the mental part and learning how to use my hand and putting my hand down, knowing when to shoot it. That was all the mental part. Other than that, I don’t have anything to prove.”
He added, “I’m a great football player. I’m just blessed.”
But is he as good as he once was? “I don’t know,” he said. “You have to look at the film and see, man. I don’t know. I’m getting better. I know that for a fact.”
History for JPP
Jason Pierre-Paul is the first player since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 to have three or more sacks and a fumble return for a touchdown of more than 40 yards in the same game.
His stats from Sunday’s game:
1 Forced Fumble
1 Fumble return for TD (43 yards)
5 Tackles, 2 assists