Romeo Okwara led the team in tackles, had a sack and batted down a pass Sunday night.
It’s hard to believe that he probably would not have even played much against the Cowboys had the Giants not been given the seemingly devastating news that Jason Pierre-Paul required surgery Wednesday morning.
It was Okwara, an undrafted rookie from Notre Dame, who stepped into Pierre-Paul’s starting spot and produced. But in reality, there were several players — Okwara, Kerry Wynn and linebacker Devon Kennard — who combined to make up for the loss of JPP.
“We had confidence in them all week,” defensive end Olivier Vernon said after the 10-7 win over the Cowboys. “Those guys have been ready. All the young guys have always been ready throughout the week and it showed out there today.”
Okwara said he had some pregame jitters before his first NFL start, but they subsided quickly.
“A little bit of nerves, but I think they were good nerves,” he said. “I was calm right before the game. That’s the way I am.”
He didn’t play calmly. The Cowboys tested him and he stood up to the best offensive line in the league.
While saying that he replaced Pierre-Paul is technically true, it real ly was a team effort. And not just by the three guys who played the position.
“He’s a playmaker, so it takes everybody,” said Kennard, who finished with six tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and two tackles for losses. “One extra play Landon [Collins] needs to make in the game, one extra play JC [Jonathan Casillas] needs to make. It’s not just the guy playing in his exact position. Everybody on the whole defense needs to make maybe one extra play, do something a little extra, to account for such a dynamic player that JPP is.”
“We played great as a defense and it was a great team win,” Okwara said.
Both Okwara and Kennard caught the eye of Ben McAdoo. Asked about the two players, McAdoo offered practically the same assessment: “It was encouraging to see.”
As for his own journey — from undrafted free agent to making the team to finding out Wednesday morning that his role would be irrevocably changed by Pierre-Paul’s surgery — Okwara did take a moment to reflect.
“I’m just excited to be where I am,” he said. “It’s just a great feeling.”