Azeez Ojulari played Sunday as if he were trying to make up for seven games of lost impact all at once.
Ojulari made the Giants’ biggest play of the game in the second quarter when he strip-sacked Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke and recovered the double-fumble. That set up the short field the struggling Giants offense needed to convert a touchdown for their first lead in what wound up as a 20-20 tie. Oshane Ximines initially recovered the loose ball, but he coughed it up, too.
“When I get to the quarterback, I always try to get the ball out,” said Ojulari, who schooled the tight end who was charged with one-on-one blocking. “You never know what could happen. I reached for it, it came out, I thought ‘OX’ had it but, he missed it, so I just fell on it. Just kept hunting for the ball.”
The play seemed to jump-start Ojulari, who was playing for the first time since Oct. 2. After injuring his right calf in training camp and missing the first two games, Ojulari injured his left calf in Week 4 against the Bears. He suffered a setback when it first looked like he might return.
“It definitely got me going,” Ojulari said. “Just fueled my fire and just got me on a roll after that.”
Later, Ojulari crushed Heinicke from the blind side on a third-and-10 in overtime, forcing a short completion and a punt. The one play that got away, however, was when he chased Heinicke from the pocket on fourth-and-4 late in the fourth quarter. The Giants lost coverage on the back end, however, and the Commanders converted a first down en route to the 90-yard touchdown drive that tied the score at 20-20.
“I was that close,” Ojulari said. “I was trying to change it up — go inside, spin back outside. Heinicke made a good throw and they got the ball. All the respect to him.”
Ojulari acknowledged that he was on a snap limitation, but probably eclipsed the unidentified number. Head coach Brian Daboll credited Ojulari for doing “some good things” as the Giants split his reps with Ximines and Jihad Ward on non-obvious pass-rush situations.
“When the team needed me, my body felt good to be able to go — however many plays it was,” Ojulari said. “Man, I’ve been dying to get back out there. Just watching them on the side is tough. When I got my opportunity, took advantage of everything. I’m blessed to be back.”
The Giants played most of the second half without defensive tackle Leonard Williams (neck injury). If Williams misses time, Ojulari’s return will be of even greater significance. If Williams plays next week against the Eagles, the Giants will finally have their four-man pass-rush — including Kayvon Thibodeaux and Dexter Lawrence — as designed.
“The urgency for me to get there [to quarterback] is high,” Ojulari said after upping his career total to 10 sacks in 20 games. “I just want to make an impact for the team no matter what it is. As a unit, we all … just get juice from each other and the rush gets hot. The intensity gets high.”
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