Walking Wounded

It is not easy and perhaps impossible to consider the ridiculous avalanche of injuries to hit the Giants and see a silver lining. Even those who chug from the glass marked "half-full'' and see themselves as the eternal optimist cannot realistically view the carnage in any possible positive manner.

Or can they?

"I expect to come back and be a better team, because these guys who have had to play behind us should have experience,'' defensive end Michael Strahan said, "so when we are in a crucial game and they have to go in and play there should be no nervousness or fear or doubt they can go out there and compete, because they know they can. It should make us better in the long run, the key is we have to win some games while we're out.''

That sure is the key. Strahan is one of the walking wounded, knocked out of the game against the Texans with a mid-foot sprain. At least Strahan will be back sometime this season. He's in better shape than linebacker LaVar Arrington (torn Achilles' tendon) and receiver Amani Toomer (partially torn ACL) and left tackle Luke Petitgout (likely out for the remainder of the regular season with a fractured left fibula). As many as seven starters have missed games with an assortment of injuries that stretched the Giants' depth so thin that it was in danger of snapping.

The situation grew so dire that not only did starters go down and out, their backups joined them on the sideline. Arrington was lost for the season at Dallas. His replacement on the strong side, Carlos Emmons, after having already missed three games with a torn pectoral muscle, suffered a groin injury and was forced out of action once again. Brandon Short, inserted at weak side linebacker when Emmons moved out of that spot, left the game against the Buccaneers in the first quarter with a quad strain that kept him out of New York's last few games.

When Strahan went down, the Giants would have loved to simply replace him with Justin Tuck, a strong second-year defensive end. It didn't happen, as Tuck was already on the shelf with a foot injury he came down with at Dallas. Osi Umenyiora, the other bookend Pro Bowl defensive end, went down with a hip flexor injury in Dallas and hasn't been on the field since.

The secondary did not escape unscathed. Veteran cornerback Sam Madison missed two games with a strained hamstring, returned to start against the Bears but couldn't get out of the first half. He aggravated the hamstring problem while stumbling to stay with Mark Bradley on what became a 29-yard touchdown pass from Rex Grossman.

Sinorice Moss, a rookie receiver from Miami who was expected to add a new and exciting dimension to the offense, played in only one of the first nine games with a lingering quad strain.

"When people asked 'What do you think about this team?' my answer was 'How well do we deal with injuries?' '' Madison said. "What about those second, third and fourth guys at different positions, how well do they play until your ones and twos get back?''

The Giants were able to hold the fort in victories over two weaklings, the Buccaneers and Texans, but fell down when the competition heated up in a 38-20 loss to the Bears. It's all well and good to go on about not giving in to all the injuries and subscribing to the "next man up'' mantra and the notion that a starter getting hurt is merely an opportunity for a younger player to make his mark. That all sounds nice but the fact of the matter is starters are in their place for a reason and backups are backups for a reason.

"The guys we got, they are who they are,'' linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "Sometimes you get the results, sometimes you don't, but most of the time you're not going to get that kind of play. I think we're better than we were last year, when it was bound to blow up in our face. I don't see it blowing up in our face. I don't see any injury except maybe quarterback going down knocking our whole season out. We can bounce back from anything.''

That's what a true competitor is expected to say but it was impossible not to notice a collective sag of the shoulders when the latest round of injuries hit home.

"Good teams can overcome it,'' Emmons said. "Some teams fall apart. It's all about what player gets hurt. Some players you can overcome and get by in a three or four-game stretch.''

The trick for the Giants is to "get by'' with so many untested players thrust into the mix. Rookie Gerris Wilkinson started at weak side linebacker. Reggie Torbor, a career backup, was forced in on the strong side. Tim Carter moved in for Toomer. Rookie Mathias Kiwanuka replaced Umenyiora and William Joseph, a natural defensive tackle, moved outside to replace Strahan at left end.

The Giants were not caught completely off-guard. When Madison went down, a capable veteran, R.W. McQuarters, was there to pick up the slack. Short, when healthy, is a proven commodity in reserve. Bob Whitfield, a 15-year veteran, got the nod at left tackle in place of Petitgout, with the Giants hoping that the 35-year-old Whitfield has something left in his well-used tank.

Increasing the quality of the depth was a priority for the Giants this past offseason and they succeeded in bolstering their roster. But at some point, there are too many holes to plug all at once and even the strongest roster springs a few leaks.

"There are two great lines, one is by Bill Russell, who said "Professional athletes aren't paid to play, they're paid to win,' '' general manager Ernie Accorsi said. "The people that are on this team made this team for a reason, so it's time for them to play. Sports history is filled with people who have got their opportunities and played well. [Tom] Brady was obviously in a situation like that.

"We have more depth than we've had in other years. Joe Paterno had a great line, ‘sometimes if you're a good team you win because you're hurt, not in spite of it.' There's nothing you can do about it, you just have to line up and play. The good part about it is we have two lost for the season already, one lost for a significant period of time, but hopefully if we can get through this period we're going to be healthy for the stretch. That's better than last year when it was at the end of the year and we weren't getting anybody back.''

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