Backache: Will P's Giant future in doubt

Will Peterson's pleasant disposition wouldn't allow it, but the Giants cornerback would've been well within reason had he started yelling and throwing things around as he discussed his back injury. Instead, the always-poised Peterson stood before his locker and matter-of-factly disclosed that his season and perhaps his career are in jeopardy.

"I've thought about that," Peterson said when asked if the injury could threaten his career. "I've definitely thought about that. I thought about that every day, since I found out the day after the (San Diego) game. It's something I'm going to have to deal with, but I'm not really leaning toward (it being career-threatening). I'm hoping that it's not that."

Peterson isn't certain what to think, though.

Before playing against the Chargers on Sept. 25 in San Diego, Giants team doctors determined through a magnetic resonance imaging exam that Peterson suffered a displaced fracture in his lower back. He was led to believe the injury was something similar to the stress fracture in his back that prevented Peterson from playing in the final 11 games of the 2003 season. The fifth-year cornerback first felt the pain in his back during the second half of the Giants' Week 2 victory over New Orleans, but Peterson played through the pain for six quarters.

Once the Giants returned from San Diego, however, Peterson learned that he is suffering from several "hot spots," or developing stress fractures, on the other side of the same bone (the pars intraarticularis) that hindered him two years ago.

"The thing that I originally thought I hurt, it was a fracture that I thought would just be painful," said Peterson, who didn't report any back pain during the 2004 season, in which he played all 16 games. "That's what I was told. But afterwards, I was told it was something you could hurt more by playing. I definitely hurt it more by playing."

Peterson said he would not have played against San Diego had he known the severity of the injury. Worse yet, the 26-year-old Peterson suspected something was significantly wrong with his back because this was worse pain than he experienced in 2003. If he misses the rest of the season, Peterson will have played in only 51 of 80 regular-season games (64 percent) in the first five years of his career.

"(The diagnosis) surprised me," Peterson said. "But to tell you the truth, before the game, the soreness that I had and the pain I was feeling, I knew it was something serious. They said the displaced fracture would cause pain, so I felt like I could play with it and deal with that. I figured it wouldn't cause any more problems, but after the game, finding out what it really was, if (I knew) the pain was coming from that, I don't think I would've played. But that's what happens."

The 6-0, 200-pound Peterson is scheduled to meet with Dr. Frank Cammisa, the Giants' spine specialist, on Monday.

"Will had a stress fracture in his back two years ago," team physician Dr. Russell Warren said. "At that time, we held him out for the remainder of the season and it has not been an issue for him since then. … He played all of last season and through this preseason with no complaints about his back.

"We did an MRI (two weeks ago) and it was not diagnostic for a stress fracture. However, it did show an old displaced transverse process fracture. The pain persisted, and we did the bone scan (last) week and that test does show some hot spots. Stress fractures develop over time, typically over months, so it would be difficult, if not impossible, to identify one particular episode as the cause for the stress fracture. What Will has is a common injury in football players, especially interior linemen. Some are able to play with it, and some are not."

Peterson isn't optimistic about returning to the field to help improve the Giants' porous pass defense, ranked 30th among the league's 32 teams entering their game against St. Louis on Sunday at Giants Stadium.

Although Warren indicated that Peterson could play through this injury, Peterson is understandably uncertain about whether the risk would outweigh the reward. He believes he made his injury worse by playing in the Chargers game. And the former Western Illinois standout is still bothered by what he views as Tom Coughlin's implication that he could've played in the Giants' season-opening victory over Arizona, despite his sprained knee.

Peterson, a third-round draft choice in 2001, missed that game, but returned to the starting lineup for the New Orleans game.

"I usually play with pain," Peterson said. "I've never been a person who shies away from physical contact. I played with pain with the old regime here and I played with it (under Coughlin). That conversation (with Coughlin before the Cardinals game) that was later made public, I was kind of offended by it because it kind of painted the picture like I don't play with pain, like I have no pain tolerance. But I never said anything. I went along with protocol because I know that's not how I am. But I don't think that played a part in this decision (to play against the Chargers). It was like if it's not something that's going to hurt me long-term, this is football and you play with it."

Without Peterson, who signed a five-year contract extension before the 2004 season, the Giants will turn to rookie Corey Webster and second-year man Curtis DeLoatch, who has struggled this season, on the right side. Webster, a second-round draft choice out of LSU, was pushing left cornerback Will Allen for playing time before a deeply bruised thigh kept him out of the Giants' lopsided loss to the Chargers. Webster is expected to return to the field for the Rams game, though, and will need to develop rapidly to replace Peterson, who was a solid cover corner when he was healthy.

"Anytime you lose a starting corner, it's going to be a factor," Coughlin said. "Hopefully, some of these other kids will be ready to go."

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