Normally picking the week’s X-Factor boils down to isolating match-ups between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their next opponent; in this case the New York Giants.
This week is a little bit different. For the first time this season there’s really not a spot on the Giants roster I look at and think they’re better equipped than the Bucs. Perhaps the biggest advantage for New York in this one is the potential for Tampa Bay to get caught looking ahead.
We’ve seen teams do it before in these ‘trap games’. With the New Orleans Saints up next in Week 9 this game feels almost like a situational annoyance standing between the Bucs and claiming their stake as the top team in the NFC South.
In these cases, it’s critical team leaders and veterans ensure the roster is ready for everything the other NFL team has for them so they come into the next game riding a winning streak, not seeking redemption.
So, any captain or veteran would do this week, right? But the right one is important, and obviously the X-Factor for Week 8 has to be outside linebacker, Jason Pierre-Paul.
In 2008, Jason Pierre-Paul was playing football for Fort Scott Community College in Kansas just months after Eli Manning and the New York Giants defeated Tom Brady and the then undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
By the time the 2010 NFL Season came around JPP had made it to the USF Bulls football team, and became a first-round pick of those Giants in the NFL Draft.
In his second NFL season, Pierre-Paul contributed two tackles, two passes defensed, one tackle for a loss, and one hit on Brady and the Giants again came away with the Lombardi Trophy after defeating the New England Patriots.
The two-year significance in JPP’s career continues, just not as successfully as it started. In 2013, he started just six games and missed five on his way to what was at the time his lowest sack total of his career.
Two seasons after winning a Super Bowl, Pierre-Paul missed five games and started in just six, totaling his lowest sack total up to that point in his career. 2015 was worse, as he played and started in just eight contests, with just one sack after injuring his hand in a fireworks accident.
Then, two years after that, JPP took his final snaps as a New York Giants defender as 2017 was his final season playing for the G-Men.
“Jason is an elite-level edge rusher who will make an immediate impact on our defense,” Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said after trading for Pierre-Paul in March of 2018. “We are adding a two-time Pro Bowler who is passionate about the game and has established himself as one of the league’s premier defensive ends. Jason is an incredibly hard-working playmaker on the defensive front with a unique skill set that allows him to stay on the field in both rushing and passing situations.”
Just to chase further down this rabbit hole, the season shortened by JPP’s neck injury was two years after his last season with the Giants.
Some of those seasons between the ones we chronicled here though, have gone well, including the one where he signed a four-year $62M contract. Oh, and this one, during which he has 5.5 sacks through seven games.
There’s a lot of history leading to this game, not just for Pierr-Paul but for Brady as well, who obviously doesn’t have the fondest memories of playing against JPP’s old squad.
It’s that history which might help any of the Buccaneers players who might be overlooking a game they’re favored to win by nearly two touchdowns on the road. As Jason Pierre-Paul talks about is own motivations, they should help energize those who may need a little extra juice in Week 8.
“You know, Eli’s (Manning) not there (anymore)...I’m going to Monday Night Football and I’m going to destroy the Giants,” Pierre-Paul said during his media availability on Friday.
Some have turned the comments into a sign of animosity from Pierre-Paul, but if you watch the actual press conference, it’s clear the eleven-year pro is simply looking forward to an exciting game that means a little bit more than most regular season contests.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have played the New York Giants twice since JPP’s arrival, but he hasn’t been healthy for either. He played the first game with an injury suffered the week prior, and then missed last year due to the previously mentioned neck injury stemming from a car crash in May of 2019.
In 2020 though, Pierre-Paul is healthier than he was for the first two match-ups, and that means something to him.
“I finally get to play them this year, I’m fully healed and I’m ready to go. I’m trying to see what I can do. I already know what I’m going to do, but I want to see what I can do.”
Veteran leadership is what has helped this young Buccaneers defense accomplish all they have in Todd Bowles’ year and a half as Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator. This week, it’s going to be that leadership, and a little extra motivation, which help the team stay on track as they look to stack on their third-straight win of the season.
For those reasons, Jason Pierre-Paul is our Tampa Bay Buccaneers X-Factor against the New York Giants in Week 8 of the 2020 NFL Season.