In the last two full games Jason Pierre-Paul played last season, he was a monster. He forced two fumbles, he had 5 ½ sacks. He was everywhere on the field, as disruptive as he had been in years.
"I was just getting warmed up, man," JPP said on Thursday. "I was just starting to get on a roll."
Nearly five months later, Pierre-Paul is ready to roll again.
The Giants' 28-year-old defensive end, fresh off signing a four-year, $62 million contract last month, is back to work and insists he feels as good as ever. He had surgery in December to repair four different injuries, he said - two in his abdomen and two in his groin - and he's dropped 10 pounds to make himself "faster and stronger."
It's all part of why JPP insists "I think the best yet is to come."
"I'm just ready to bring it," JPP said after working out with his teammates on Thursday morning. "I feel much better."
Midway through last season it looked like JPP felt pretty good, perhaps for the first time since his infamous fireworks accident in the summer of 2015. He had played well in the Giants' first seven games, leading up to their bye week, but he only had 1 ½ sacks to show for it. Then after the bye he started to turn up the pressure. He had four deflected passes in the next three games. Then came the two-game stretch in late November when he had 2 ½ sacks vs. the Bears and another three in Cleveland.
But the roll ended one week later, in the second quarter of the Giants' loss in Pittsburgh on Dec. 4, when he left the game with what was described at the time as an injured groin. The defensive end spent the rest of the season watching from afar as the Giants made the playoffs, only to be bounced in the a blowout loss in Green Bay in the first round.
Without JPP, an emerging Giants pass rush just wasn't quite the same. And as he watched the defense deteriorate in the second half of that 38-13 loss to the Packers, he felt there was only one person to blame.
"I was just upset at myself," he said. "You can't predict injuries, man. That's one thing you can't do. I feel like I would've helped tremendously out there, but I couldn't be there to help my team."
This year he wants to help all the way until the end. That's why he dropped 10 pounds to weigh in at 265 - down from 275 last year and the 290 he was as a rookie. That's reminiscent of the way Michael Strahan slimmed down late in his career as a way to stay healthier and preserve his speed as he aged.
JPP said he never knew Strahan did that. Upon hearing it he said "I guess I'm doing the right thing.
"As you get older you can't stay the same," he said. "You've got to change. You've got to change things to get better."
The Giants are banking on JPP getting better. They spent heavily on him, convinced that the tag team of Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon will provide a devastating pass rush and anchor a defense they believe will be in the Top 5 in the league. No one knows if JPP can ever regain the form he had in 2011 when he had 16 ½ sacks - before back surgery, and abdominal surgery, and the loss of much of his right hand - but the Giants think he can come close.
They also think JPP can be a leader on the defense - a role he hasn't always been willing to accept. He prefers to lead by example, the way another great Giants defensive end used to do.
"I've been here eight years. I'm a vet, man. I know the game. I know how to play the game, teach the young cats," JPP said. "It was the same way when I came in and I was looking at (Justin) Tuck. Now the young cats are looking at me, so I've got to teach the young cats that are coming in to make their play better and help the team win another Super Bowl. That's the goal."
The work towards that starts now, even though Pierre-Paul isn't cleared for football activities - and he wouldn't say whether he would be at all this spring. Whenever he's cleared, though, JPP believes he'll be ready to justify the faith the Giants have placed in him. They've stood beside him through all his troubles. And it looks like they'll be standing by him the rest of his career.
"I've been here eight years. Still going. It just means so much with everything I've been through, and they're still behind me," Pierre-Paul said. "It looks like I'm going to retire a Giant, right?