By Ernie Palladino
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The glove looks like something Jack Dempsey would have worn in the bad old days of prize-fighting — a mitt, really, better suited for hitting a chin or, these days, a speed bag, than for dragging some poor quarterback to the ground.

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Inside the glove resides the right hand that rocked the Giants’ world July 4 — topless thumb bent inward, a space where the index finger once was, three of the four remaining remnants swollen and gnarled.

It is with this deformed tool that Jason Pierre-Paul plans to give life to a pass rush that all but died when those fireworks exploded in his hand that summer afternoon in Florida. Whether his return to the Giants’ lineup happens Sunday in Tampa Bay or next week at MetLife against New England, whether he takes a full workload or just 10 or 12 snaps in clear pass-rush situations, said return can’t happen soon enough.

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The Giants need him. Actually, at this point they can use anybody who can get to the passer on-time and penalty-free.

Through the first half of the season, it has become painfully apparent that Damontre Moore, their most frequent visitor to the backfield, can’t do anything without attracting an official’s attention. And that’s not to mention the consistent absence in that geographical locale of Cullen Jenkins and Jonathan Hankins and Robert Ayers, Jr., and George Selvie.

Oh, the 4-4 Giants need Pierre-Paul, all right. Nine sacks from Day 1, including one from 250-pound fullback/occasional D-lineman Nikita Whitlock, ranks that pass rush dead last in the league.

Taken alone, that would not be such a big deal. Turnovers, after all, get a much better return than mere sacks. But it is the combination of consistent pressure and the quarterback’s fear of taking a beating that causes things like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s Pick-6 two games ago against Dallas.

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That game was the last evidence of the pass rush defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo so depended on to turn last year’s moribund defense into a terror unit. The only Brees they came close to last week in New Orleans was the one the Drew’s unmolested arm generated in throwing a league-record seven touchdowns.

The situation has become embarrassing, and now Tom Coughlin and Spagnuolo count the practices until Pierre-Paul can return to the field. A pass rusher with half a hand and five months away from real football contact has become their last, best hope to make something positive happen against aerial assault.

Not that they’ve forgotten that JPP’s return this year, if ever, was considered at best improbable by everyone but the defensive end himself. That doesn’t matter now. The contract signing of last week, this week’s acceleration of practice reps is all that matters. And Coughlin is doing his best to raise optimism, proclaiming his weapon fast and well conditioned.

The speed may be there, but nobody knows how the hand will affect the play. It’s one thing to hit a sled. When it comes to wrapping up a scrambling quarterback or taking down a back aiming to turn the corner, that’s quite another. Regardless of how the Giants time JPP’s return — this week, next week, or after the bye — not even the double-digit sacker can know if the gnarled appendage will betray him at the critical moment.

Coughlin and Spagnuolo can only hope for the best, and pray that the medical people deem him fit enough to return sooner than later. They need help. The Giants’ pass rush needs help before its overall absence makes it impossible for the offense to outscore anyone.

Remember, six touchdown passes couldn’t get it done last week because the Saints threw one more, kicked a field goal, and ate up nearly 200 yards more of real estate because nobody laid a legal hand on Brees.

The answers to the questions surrounding Pierre-Paul can’t come soon enough.

Then they’ll see if half a hand and an old-time boxing mitt makes for a passing grade.

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