TAMPA - Cullen Jenkins admits the sins committed by the Giants' defense this season have burdened the players on the unit, particularly after New Orleans scored 52 points in the team's most recent defeat.
"It weighed a lot on your mind," Jenkins said after the Giants' 32-18 victory Sunday in Raymond James Stadium. "Not just last week, but through the course of the year being in the situation where you can close teams out and finish games out on the field, and we haven't done good at it this year. One thing about this league is that every week, you're going to get another opportunity. And when we had the opportunity today, we had to rally and we had to talk to each other and step it up. And we were able to get stops today.">> WATCH GIANTS VS. BUCS HIGHLIGHTS
And they were huge. One week after allowing seven touchdown passes, the Giants gave up none. The only touchdown they gave up was on Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston's 10-yard run in the fourth quarter. The Buccaneers outgained and outrushed the Giants, but owned the ball for 10 fewer minutes as the defense came up with an inspired effort.
Of course, it wasn't exactly the same defense the Giants put on the field in New Orleans. The unit was fortified by the 2015 debut of two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.>> 5 STANDOUT PLAYERS
JPP's numbers didn't jump off the stat sheet. He had two solo tackles and no sacks (neither team had sack) while playing 46 of 63 defensive snaps (73 percent). But he was at his best in the fourth quarter, when he relentlessly pursued Winston and was credited with two quarterback hits.
"I think the players were excited to have him as a part of our team and have him active tonight," coach Tom
Coughlin said. "I think he made a couple of outstanding rushes, particularly at the end, when the quarterback was forced to roll right and heave the ball up. That was critical at that time. We didn't get a sack, but we did pressure. He needs to get his timing down, obviously. He made a couple real good rushes coming up and under. So I think he is just going to get better and better."
Asked what difference Pierre-Paul makes on the defense, Coughlin said, "The quarterback can never be too settled. That's the whole deal. He did make him uncomfortable, even though we weren't able to get to him, we did make him uncomfortable and that was a huge plus.">> WATCH GIANTS POSTGAME REACTIONS
"He is a guy that can definitely get after the quarterback," said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. "He got out there, got the feeling, and you definitely know what he's capable of and next week, he's definitely going to hit you while running."
The Bucs began their final full possession at their own 20-yard line with 7:18 remaining, trailing 23-18. But eight plays gained a total of just 31 yards, forcing them to punt. Under pressure from JPP, Winston threw three consecutive incompletions to end the series.
"We definitely made him uncomfortable," Pierre-Paul said of Winston, the No. 1 overall selection in this year's
NFL Draft. "He is a good quarterback – he can run, he can scramble. A couple times he got out (of the pocket) and scrambled on us, but we kept our composure and played some good football."
Particularly on that critical drive in the final quarter, after Tampa Bay had driven 87 yards on just five plays to a touchdown on its previous possession.
"It's time to win the game," JPP said. "When it comes down to the fourth quarter, you just have to give everything you got. You got to give everything you got in the game."
He was able to do that when it most counted, because the Giants wanted him fresh for the game's decisive snaps.
"We wanted him at the end of the game, obviously," Coughlin said. "So he got probably more than he should have, but, he is in great shape and he kept wanting to go, and so be it."
Pierre-Paul said he could not have played the entire game in his first game action since the 2014 season finale.
"I knew what my goal was, I knew how many snaps I was going to get," Pierre-Paul said. "It's not new for me to come out of the game. It takes time and I'm glad we won this game.
"This is my first game back. I'm a little rusty in areas. I need to go back and watch the film, and see where I can get better and get ready for New England (the undefeated Patriots visit MetLife Stadium next week)."
Pierre-Paul was pleased that his right hand, badly injured in a July 4 fireworks accident and missing the index
Giants.com hands outs their game balls after the Giants top the Bucs
finger, passed its first test.
"It takes time," Pierre-Paul said. "Like I said, I'm not perfect, nobody is in this world, but I'm going to take care of that and get better."
JPP lifted the defense, and indeed the entire team, simply by putting on his uniform.
"I'm happy, very, very happy for him," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "He's been through a lot. Had a lot of criticism. He kept fighting, he kept training, and he came out here and stuck his hand in the dirt. It was just an unbelievable feeling for him and us as a team, as well."
"It was just fun seeing him out there chasing the quarterback," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We wanted him to get a sack … I definitely saw him chasing the quarterback around, and getting him out of the pocket and making him move. So he was a presence and that's just after two weeks of practicing. The more practice that he gets, getting back in the lineup, getting more game playing time, will help him, but he was definitely disruptive today and it was good to see that."
Although the focus was on JPP, the Giants had many vital contributors. Manning threw touchdown passes to Rueben Randle and Shane Vereen. Josh Brown kicked four field goals. Jasper Brinkley started at middle linebacker, led the team with seven tackles, forced one fumble and recovered another. Cornerback Trevin Wade recovered two fumbles, including one he returned five yards for a touchdown on the game's final play.
The Giants had a successful comeback game after their high-scoring disappointment in New Orleans. As JPP continues to improve, he and the Giants should have more of them.
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"I just know I'm happy being out here doing what I love to do," he said. "I basically got a second opportunity. I'm just helping my teammates win football games.
"I think I played good. I got some errors I need to take care of. I'm not perfect. But I'm going to try my hardest to take care of them and move on to the next game."
To the Giants, nothing could sound better.
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