The Giants were dealt a major blow to the defense late Friday afternoon when, after practicing all week, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka was declared out of Sunday's game against the Bears.
Kiwanuka, the team's sack leader with four, arrived to work at the Timex Performance Center on Thursday with a stiff neck. He was examined by Ronnie Barnes, the team's vice president of medical services. After receiving treatment for the stiffness in his neck, Kiwanuka went through practice and underwent an MRI that night.
Friday, Kiwanuka still was experiencing some stiffness in his neck but otherwise felt fine. He went through practice and intentionally avoided contact with his head and neck.
After practice, he underwent a CAT scan at the Hospital for Special Surgery and was examined by team physician Dr. Russell Warren, who consulted with Dr. Frank Camissa, the spine specialist at HSS.
The diagnosis is that Kiwanuka has a bulging cervical disc. Based on the initial examination and tests, it's unclear when and how Kiwanuka suffered the injury.
The initial prognosis is for Kiwanuka to avoid contact with his head and neck, and the team's physicians will monitor the disc to see how it quiets down. There is no timetable on recovery, which varies from case to case, as does the treatment for such an injury.
"It's disappointing," said Kiwanuka. "It just feels like a stiff neck. The pain is not intolerable but I want to make sure that I will be okay down the line. I have full trust in the medical staff and the trainers at the Giants. I'm going to do everything that is asked of me so when I'm cleared I'll be back and ready to go."
With DE Osi Umenyiora questionable with swelling in his right knee and LB Keith Bulluck listed as doubtful with turf toe, the Giants could conceivably be missing three defensive starters against a Bears squad that features a solid running attack and a gambling passing attack led by quarterback Jay Cutler. The pass rush has already exhibited difficulty in getting to the quarterback consistently, though Kiwanuka has applied the most consistent pressure.
The question must now be asked whether Kiwanuka's bulging disc could be a season-long problem or a season-ender. If it is, rookie DE Jason Pierre-Paul will have to shoulder a bigger load. Though he has looked good so far, he may not be ready for a featured role in the defensive end rotation. But his situation may not be much different than Kiwanuka's in 2006 when the then first-round rookie started nine games between both defensive end spots as Michael Strahan and Umenyiora went out with injuries.