By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Quarterback Eli Manning won deserved bouquets after Sunday's comeback victory over the Dallas Cowboys, but young defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul put on a one-man show on defense in the win.
The 22-year-old second-year player, commonly known as JPP, registered a safety, forced a fumble, had two sacks, made eight tackles and blocked a potential game-tying field goal as time elapsed in a spectacular defensive performance.
It was a prime-time coming out party for the ultra athletic pass-rusher, who is still learning the game.
"JPP singlehandedly handled them today," New York's veteran defensive back Antrel Rolle told reporters after the 37-34 victory tied the Giants with Dallas for the NFC East lead.
"You take your hat off to a guy like that. I always call it beast mode, and he was in beast mode today."
The Giants, once known for ferocious defenses, have struggled on that side of the ball this season as injuries sidelined some of their key players.
New York (7-6), who have yielded an average of nearly 27 points a game, have won many of their games in shootout fashion, with Manning engineering six fourth-quarter comeback wins, including Sunday's victory over the Cowboys.
The shining light on defense has been Pierre-Paul, whose speed, strength and energy have Big Blue boosters thinking of the glory days of Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who terrorized opposing teams on the way to two Super Bowl titles.
"He is something else," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said with relief about JPP after New York ended a four-game losing streak. "He has a great motor and he keeps going."
After a rookie season with 24 solo tackles and 4.5 sacks, the blossoming Pierre-Paul is fifth in the National Football League this season with 12.5 sacks, has 47 solo tackles and tipped many passes by making use of his extremely wide wingspan.
Pierre-Paul, whose parents emigrated from Haiti, came late to football, switching from basketball at his Florida high school after breaking his leg.
He attended two junior colleges before enrolling in the University of South Florida, by then on the radar of the professional scouts.
Following a postseason college football game where the 6-foot-5, 278-pound Pierre-Paul became a YouTube star seen winning an impromptu backflip contest on the field with 13 successive somersaults, he decided to forego his senior year and enter the NFL Draft.
The Giants used their first-round pick, 15th overall, for the still raw Pierre-Paul and are reaping the benefits.
Against arch-rival Dallas, he registered his first safety when Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo lost his balance and stumbled down in the end zone after a grazing hit from Pierre-Paul, and had his first blocked kick.
On that play, he made an adjustment after the first try by the Dallas kicker did not count as New York coach Coughlin called timeout before the snap.
"The first one, the guard blocked me," said Paul-Pierre. "He's a strong cat, you know? He was heavy. I couldn't push him.
"So the second one, I was like, man I have to push through the center to at least try to get the blocked kick. I gave great effort and I blocked the kick."
Slicing his way through the middle of the line, he stretched out his long arm and tipped the ball to preserve a critical win that put the Giants on track for the playoffs.
"We got what we came here to get, a win," he said.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)