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Giants’ Kayvon Thibodeaux stands tall following three-sack game

Has Thibodeaux finally silenced his critics?

NFL: New York Jets at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Save the humility for someone else — New York Giants edge defender Kayvon Thibodeaux knows exactly how good he’s been this year.

After recording three sacks last Sunday against the New York Jets, Thibodeaux has 8.5 sacks on the season, tied for fourth-most in the NFL. That puts him on pace for an 18-sack season, which would be more than any Giant besides Michael Strahan and Lawrence Taylor has ever reached.

While it’s certainly early to assume Thibodeaux will reach that level, his strong start to the season puts him in some elite company. The four other NFL players with 8.5 sacks this year are all former Pro Bowlers.

“I definitely have looked [at the sack leaderboard],” Thibodeaux said with a laugh. “I’ll be honest. Yeah, because now you are chasing something. Sometimes when your team is not in the best position, you start to look at what can I use to motivate me or what motivation can you bring to the defense or the guys around, and it’s playing good football. As a defense we’ve been able to do some great things and now ... you keep your motivation by continuing to reap the benefits of how good you guys are playing. Just playing together and trying to keep it going.”

Thibodeaux also didn’t want to hear any criticism over the fact that his sacks come in bunches. He has 4.5 sacks in his last two games, and last year had the majority of his sacks in a five-game span.

“I think when people say the term, ‘oh, they come in bunches,’ that’s almost disrespectful to me,” Thibodeaux said. “A guy like Danielle Hunter that’s got 10 sacks, he’s been getting at least a sack every game. And you talk about putting the work in and really execute your plan and your technique and things like that, it’s a lot of hard work.

“You look at baseball and guys are hitting what? Less than 50 percent or whatever, are getting paid millions, right? You think about pass rush, out of how many snaps ... it’s almost however many 300, 400, 500 snaps a guys playing a year, a guy goes and gets 18 sacks, he’s a legend, you know? I think that as pass rushers it’s very hard, and the guys that are able to do it at a high-level consistently, they deserve the credit.”

Thibodeaux, last year’s No. 5 overall pick, received some criticism during his rookie year for finishing the season with only 4.5 sacks given how many pressures he was generating. He partially credited his improvement to a change in his mental approach to the game.

“You go ask a rookie how he feels [by Week 9], he wants to quit,” Thibodeaux said. “You know by the time Week 12 comes then it’s like, when you go from training all season, you just played a college season and then you are at the combine and doing all this, so now it’s like you come to the NFL it’s like, ‘I’ve been going for football for a year straight basically.’ And now it’s like okay, I’m also playing 60 snaps and the tempo is faster, everything. It’s kind of just processing, and now I have been able to kind of update my recovery, update my training, update my mind so now that things have slowed down on the field, which can make me play faster and do things better.”

Thibodeaux has also improved the physical aspects of his game. He’s played 89% of his team’s defensive snaps so far this year, up from 79% as a rookie. With Azeez Ojulari on Injured Reserve, Thibodeaux’s presence on the edge is essentially required for the Giants to generate pressure.

“It’s all about conditioning, it’s all about what you do in the offseason, and that’s kind of what I prided myself in,” Thibodeaux said. “Knowing that last year I felt like I wasn’t prepared and coming in and playing every snap and this year I knew what it was going to be. Just training and kind of putting myself through that in the offseason so that I could continue to make that run and that stretch at the end of the year.”

Thibodeaux was, of course, asked about an incident this week where former Giants linebacker Carl Banks was kicked off a WFAN radio show for a heated defense of Thibodeaux. The show’s two hosts made the argument that Thibodeaux has done little to impact games this year, which he followed with a three-sack game immediately after.

“If I’m being honest, if there is a retired NFL guy who goes on there and starts talking, then I may feel some more type of way with it because they played the game, but it’s real tough on players that focus on people who haven’t played the game or who are not playing the game or studied the game, right? And I don’t just say you don’t have to be an NFL player to understand football, but you have to study it to understand it. For me, I try to just stick to my facts and stick to the information that I get from the people who study the game.”

Thibodeaux wasn’t shy about wanting to end the year with some individual accolades, but he’s also aware that there are larger goals ahead of him.

“I do want to make the Pro Bowl, that would be something that’s amazing,” Thibodeaux said. “I do want to be in the running for the Defensive Player of the Year. Obviously, we are not playing the best as a team, so individual success doesn’t come without team success, so I’m not worried about it, but it’s dope to be in this position and be a guy that is successful too.”