When Jabrill Peppers was asked by The Post if he was looking forward to his first game against Tom Brady, his eyes beamed and his smile was from East Rutherford to Foxborough. Peppers has never played against his fellow Michigan alum and is eagerly looking forward to the challenge despite the forecast of a beatdown at the hands of the unbeaten Patriots.

“This is my first time,” Peppers said of his impending matchup with Brady. “I’m excited, I ain’t gonna lie.”

With that Peppers scurried off to a meeting, likely to discuss how the Giants secondary is going to defend against the GOAT. After two seasons in Cleveland, Peppers finally gets his chance against Brady on Thursday night when the Giants travel to Gillette Stadium for the nationally televised game.

The Giants (2-3) are coming off a 28-10 loss to the Vikings that stopped a two-game winning streak. They’ll likely be without Saquon Barkley and his backup, Wayne Gallman, wide receiver Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram because of injuries, which is why the Patriots are a 16 ½-point favorite.

But the timing couldn’t be better for Peppers, who in five games with the Giants has established himself as a team leader and an every-down player who doesn’t shy away from contact. Despite the struggles of a pass defense that ranks 28th in the league, Peppers is starting to make the kind of impact plays the Giants envisioned when they acquired him and two high draft choices in the trade with the Browns for Odell Beckham Jr.

Peppers scored his first career touchdown on a 32-yard interception return in the 24-3 victory over Washington two Sundays ago, and forced a fumble against the Vikings on Sunday just as Dalvin Cook appeared headed for the touchdown. He also has 30 total tackles in five games, a pace that would give him 96 for the season — easily surpassing his previous career high of 77 last year.

Peppers’ tackles total, mostly in run support, ranks second on the team to free safety Antoine Bethea, who leads with 40. Their combined 70 tackles is a clear indication how busy the Giants secondary has been cleaning up behind a run defense hurt by an injury-ravaged linebacker corps.

It’s a challenge Peppers embraces now that he has the consistency with the Giants that he never had in Cleveland.

“If you look at my career, my rookie year I was a lot of yards off the ball so I couldn’t be in the mix and gain a lot of tackles,” Peppers said. “It was more so angel the defense and make the tackles if something breaks. My second year, I was rotating each series. Now this is my first year of playing throughout the game, getting in the groove of the game, seeing what the offenses are trying to do and then surround the ball.”

Peppers is everywhere on the Giants defense, sometimes lining up a few yards off the line of scrimmage, where he looks more like a linebacker than a safety. Or he can be back in coverage against a receiver or tight end.

“You can put him in a lot of different positions on the field and it gives him the opportunity to make plays,” Bethea said. “He’s doing that forcing a fumble in this last game and a pick-six in the game before that. There’s definitely a long season ahead of us and he’ll have plenty more opportunities to make some plays for us.”

The secondary — and the Giants in general — need to tackle better than it did against the Vikings, who seemed to be running downhill on every play. And when the Patriots pass, the Giants secondary will have to contend with Brady.

“You can’t beat yourself,” Bethea said. “Sometimes you try to do a whole lot to fool [Brady], but he’s seen it all. You have to be good on your fundamentals, technique, and leverage. When you make mistakes, he going to find those mistakes and make you pay for it.”
Peppers can’t wait.