EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — Two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants didn't hesitate saying why he was thankful on the eve of Thanksgiving.
Four months after losing his right index finger and mangling two other fingers in a July 4th fireworks accident, Pierre-Paul said Wednesday he was just happy to be alive.
"The situation I was in I could have died or whatever," Pierre-Paul said after the Giants (5-5) practiced for Sunday's game against the Redskins (4-6) in Washington. "I am thankful to be alive, so that is what I am thankful for. I don't have to eat or whatever, but I am going to eat."
The 26-year-old said he still has a ways to go to get back to being a dominating player, but he is happy with his progress since returning to the Giants (5-5) earlier this month.
Pierre-Paul, who had a team-high 12½ sacks last season, has played in two games, making his debut against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 8. He has two tackles and has yet to get a sack. He lost one last week against Tom Brady in the Giants' last game before the bye because of a penalty.
"I see a guy out there trying his best, trying to get back to where he was at," Pierre-Paul said. "My accident occurred, but it didn't stop me. It didn't stop me from working out. It didn't stop me from getting back here, and it sure didn't stop me from getting back on the field and playing some football.
"I have to get better," he added. "I know a lot of the things I have to get better at. It takes times. It's only been four months; if it was any other guy, I don't know if they would have come back. I'm a different breed."
Redskins coach Jay Gruden agrees after watching video of the six-year veteran.
"I've seen a big, fast, defensive end that's very disruptive," Gruden said. "He's a good player and he looks the same to me."
The big adjustment for Pierre-Paul is playing with the "club" on his right hand. It looks like a white mitten, and it is there to protect the hand.
However, it's also obvious Pierre-Paul does not have the same grasping ability. His speed and strength seem back to normal, but playing with the damaged hand is a new experience.
"Yeah, this thing did not come with a set of instructions of how to do it and how to fight through it, so we are working each day," defensive line coach Robert Nunn said during the bye week. "He is working with (trainer) Ronnie Barnes each day trying to adjust his glove and get comfortable with it, so we are going through each practice by practice and keep trying to adjust to get him comfortable, and he continues to get better."
Pierre-Paul said his hand is improving every day and he has noticed he is getting the attention of opposing teams, which frees up fellow linemen.
"As time goes on, I am going to get better and better and be that old Jason Pierre-Paul that everybody knows, getting to the quarterback and playing the run, not scared of anything, which I am not scared of anything now. I am just happy to be here."
Also making Pierre-Paul happy is the Giants have a shot at the playoffs for the first time since 2011. They have a one-game lead over Washington and Philadelphia with six to play.
"We get in the playoffs, anything can happen," Pierre-Paul said. "I know if we can in the playoffs, it's an extra boost for us. At the end of the day, we know what we have to do to get back there. The team has to come together. Nobody can do that us for us, but the guys here, not even the coaches. We have to do it."
NOTES: Starting left guard Justin Pugh did not practice because of a concussion. Starting center Weston Richburg practiced on a limited basis with a sprained left ankle and said "it hurt". ...Tight end Larry Donnell had hoped to return from a neck injury this week, but he said a recent MRI found something "new." He still expects to play again this season. ... Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie jammed a finger early in practice but returned.