Jason Pierre-Paul made life miserable for Tony Romo and many other quarterbacks in 2011. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is coming off a season for the ages -- and he says he is only about 50 percent from optimum performance.
It didn’t take long for Jason Pierre-Paul to sign his name next to Lawrence Taylor and Michael Strahan in the New York Giants’ history books. But to define Pierre-Paul’s second NFL season by him becoming the third Giant to record at least 16 sacks in a season is to place limits on precisely what "JPP" accomplished in the Jersey Swamps. Pierre-Paul enjoyed five multiple-sack games, 12 with at least half a sack, twice was selected NFC Defensive Player of the Week in December – when he was named NFC Player of the Month – was responsible for saving the Giants’ season with a fingertip one night in Dallas and selected to his first Pro Bowl with his name nowhere on the ballot.
To summarize, Pierre-Paul was an unstoppable freight train on track to a Super Bowl victory. But Friday in Albany, the 6-foot-5, 278-pound defensive end sent fair warning to the rest of the National Football League. The prodigy out of the University of South Florida with freakish athletic ability hasn’t reached his full potential.
Not even close.
"I’m at about 50 [percent]," Pierre-Paul said. "I’m still learning and that’s a good thing, right now. I want to come out here and learn, keep on learning."
Fifty percent. Yes, that’s what the man said. There is certainly a lot more Pierre-Paul can accomplish. Taylor became an MVP when he had 20.5 sacks in 1986. Strahan twice posted at least 16, including an NFL-record 22.5 in 2001. The way Pierre-Paul is going, don’t be surprised if he shatters Strahan’s record while terrorizing quarterbacks and collecting a few more rings. He’s already a star, but he’s only 23 and just a kid. And he’s OK with that.
"I’m just trying to be that 23-year-old kid trying to make the football team like I don’t even have a spot on the team," Pierre-Paul said. "It’s easy. Just come out and work. Show the coaches that you are still trying to learn, because at the end of the day, you don’t know it all."
No, you don’t, but Pierre-Paul has learned plenty and matured quickly. While a rookie, Pierre-Paul could barely speak to the media and had difficulty putting together a sentence, whereas today he’s comfortable meeting the press and with his role as a leader. After playing just one season at USF, Pierre-Paul played in all 16 games as a rook, showing signs that the freak athlete best known for owning You Tube with his multiple backflips was adapting to the speed of the pro game.
More and more into Year 2, Pierre-Paul was growing into not just a star, but a sensation. He fully blossomed on December 11 with two sacks (one for a safety) of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to go with a forced fumble. But in the annals of Giants history is his block of Dan Bailey's 47-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds. He not only became the first player in league history to rack up the above accomplishments all in one game, he saved the Giants from falling into the abyss. A successful kick ties the game and a Cowboys victory seals Big Blue’s fate for 2012. Instead, the Giants ended a four-game losing streak, essentially finished the Pokes as playoff contenders and went 6-1 en route to winning Super Bowl XLVI.
Alas, Pierre-Paul promises he’s barely scraped the ceiling of his potential.
"I’m still improving," Pierre-Paul said. "Trust me, I don’t know it all. I’ve still got a lot to learn about the game of football. I’m doing quite a good job of it, but I’ve still got a lot to learn."
And that’s a scary proposition.
Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC