But Carter will draw much more attention on and off the field for the rest of this season, now that the Giants have lost their all-time leading receiver until 2007. They'll rely heavily on the five-year veteran to help them overcome the loss of Amani Toomer, whose partially torn anterior cruciate ligament damaged not only Toomer's knee, but the Giants' chances of postseason prosperity. Carter started in place of an injured Plaxico Burress at split end on the day Toomer subtly suffered his season-ending injury, but now he'll be expected to make more physical catches in traffic from Toomer's flanker position.
"I just feel like it's time for me to step up," Carter, 27, said. "I'm just going out there to make plays."
Carter's career has been marred by a torn Achilles' tendon, concussions and a hip injury, setbacks that respectively cut short his 2002, 2003 and 2004 seasons. He played in 15 games last season, and has been on the field for each of the Giants' nine games this season. But he hasn't reached the potential his athleticism and speed indicated in four-plus seasons with the team.
While struggling to stay on the field, Carter hasn't caught more than 26 passes in a season and has made only five starts since the Giants selected him in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft.
His teammates have noticed improvement in Carter this season, though, and expect that he'll respond to this challenge much the way he did when the Giants drafted former Miami star Sinorice Moss in the second round earlier this year. Carter beat out the often-injured Moss for their third receiver position, and has made several critical catches already this season.
"Tim Carter has been playing phenomenally," Burress said. "He's been making all of the big catches for us on third down. Guys kind of seem to slack off him a little bit when we were in three wide receivers. He's one of those guys who is going to be depended on a little bit more, and I have all of the confidence in the world for him to go out there and make plays for us."
But Burress, Carter and everyone else in the Giants' locker room admitted that you couldn't really replace Toomer.
Forget the clutch catches, the touchdowns and all the other obvious contributions the 11-year veteran has made in helping the Giants become one of the NFC's top teams this year. His teammates also appreciate Toomer's professionalism, the way he prepared on the practice field and in the film room. In making a smooth transition from split end to flanker after Burress arrived in 2005, Toomer has also been commended for his blocking.
"He's dependable," Manning said, "he's going to do the right thing and he has a great feel with making tough catches, and when he gets hit. You can't replace some of those things, but we have some other receivers we're going to have to mix in and use a couple of them to try and give us some good things."
With Carter starting, they'll need Michael Jennings, David Tyree and eventually Moss to help them overcome Carter's absence as their third receiver.
Jennings converted several opportunities when the Giants were completely healthy at wide receiver earlier this season, and should be useful when they try three-receiver formations. The 5-11, 181-pound Jennings is probably too small to thrive inside, where the game is much more physical and he'd have to block a lot. But the former practice-squad player is eager to line up wherever the Giants need him.
"I'm that sixth man on the basketball team," Jennings said. "If someone goes down, I want to be able to step in and contribute."
Tyree is more physical than Jennings, and he hopes his role increases significantly as well. Tyree was effective during the Giants' comeback against Seattle in Week 3, but hasn't been afforded many opportunities on offense since then. The fourth-year player caught a career-high 16 passes as a rookie in 2003, but Tyree, one of the league's top special teams players, has seen his offensive production dip each season since.
"I think I'm a guy who consistently comes in and fits the bill and that's the way I'd like to keep it," Tyree said. "That's an opportunity I look forward to every year. Every time you have an opportunity, you have to make the most of it. … We have great talent top to bottom, so we don't really expect to miss a beat when we lose someone."
No one seems to know what to expect from Moss, who has missed six straight games with a lingering quadriceps injury. There still isn't a timetable for his return, but he did practice on a limited basis last week. He said there was a possibility he could come back for the Giants' game Monday night at Jacksonville, but coach Tom Coughlin seemed a little less optimistic.
"I've been out for a while and it's been pretty frustrating for myself, but now the opportunity is here," Moss said. "We have guys down. It's time for me to get healthy and get back out there, so I can help this team."
Moss caught one pass for four yards in his only appearance of the season, during the Giants' Week 2 comeback victory over Philadelphia. They're taking a cautious approach toward his second game, though, because the last thing they can afford is to lose another receiver for the rest of the season.
"I've been wanting to get back on the field, but I just have to be patient with the injury I have," Moss said. "I don't want it to reoccur. So it's best for me to just keep preparing myself every day and doing what I have to do to help this team."
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