Swan song?

When Amani Toomer went down earlier this season, the Giants turned to a man who had only played in 37 games the previous four years. They tried to replace arguably the greatest Giants receiver of all-time with a man whose career stats coming into this season – 50 catches, 714 yards and one touchdown – sounded pretty good … for a guy who had played one or two years in the league.

However, with Tim Carter, there have always been extenuating circumstances. Through his first four years in the NFL, he has been battered and beleaguered by injuries. And they've always seemed to come at precisely the worst times.

You see, it seems that whenever he would show the flashes of promise that led New York to pick him in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft, the Auburn product would get hurt. And lately, the big plays have become fewer and fewer to the degree that some local sportscasters have already written him off.

"You see Carter," WFAN sportscaster Mike Francesa said recently on the radio, "to me, you've waited long enough for Carter."

And, unfortunately, Francesa was not alone in that opinion. However, when you talk to the six-foot, 200-pound speed demon, you realize he is well aware of his fate. And, despite having one year left on his contract, Carter knows that every year you don't produce is a year you may depart after the season.

"It's kind of hard watching this league (as opposed to other professional leagues)," Carter said after the Giants dropped a gut-wrenching 23-20 decision to Dallas a couple weeks ago. "It's pretty different to analyze. But, when I was playing behind Amani I was auditioning (for more playing time). Every time I touch the football I'm auditioning. You've got to be auditioning every week.

"The fact is you're always auditioning in this league."

However, that fact is never more apparent than in Carter's current situation. Given the severity of Toomer's current injury, and his age, Carter is not only auditioning for possibly his starting spot next season, but also for a spot on the team.

This team desperately needs more playmakers and with Tiki Barber retiring at season's end and no indication of just how healthy Toomer will be in '07, not to mention what his production level will be, New York will most likely be scrutinizing their offensive slots in training camp.

Will Carter get one of those? Well, the season's last four games – playoffs or not – will go a long way to determining his future status.

To be fair, Carter has shown brief flashes again this season. After the Dallas loss, he stood fifth on the Giants in catches with 15 for 200 yards, and a decent 13.3 yards-a-catch average. Not to mention, he scored his second career touchdown at a key moment.

However, as always with Carter, there are extenuating circumstances regarding the stats. His touchdown did not come on a reception, but rather after he alertly pounced on the ball in the end zone. That 16-yard fumble recovery for a TD pulled the Giants within 10 in their eventual 30-24 comeback victory over the Eagles in a crucial Week 2 meeting. And his total receptions are just one more than special teams ace David Tyree. Not exactly the kind of numbers that New York is looking for from its current number three receiver (counting Jeremy Shockey into the equation).

Still, I have to admit, there are things about Carter that make you want him to put it all together one Sunday. Perhaps, it's the fact that he has the kind of speed you can't teach. Or the early promise he showed during his first two years in the league, such as his 38-yard TD catch against the Redskins two years ago or the game he had against Jacksonville in a key 24-17 Giants win his rookie year. In that contest, he hauled in a 27-yard reception from Kerry Collins on a 4th-and-17, and sprinted for a 13-yard gain on a reverse that helped set up a touchdown. And that season, the Giants needed all 10 of their wins just to make the playoffs.

Heck, perhaps I like to root for him because he's a stand-up guy. However, stand-up guy or not, the Giants will no doubt be looking for results from him through the season's last four games.

When asked if Carter had stepped up enough in trying to replace Toomer so far this season, head coach Tom Coughlin gave a very general answer.

"There were a couple of opportunities (in the Dallas game) that he didn't take advantage of," Coughlin sighed. "But, I'm not going to say it was all his fault."

Clearly, the question addressed Carter's production since being thrust into the starting lineup over the past month or so. But, maybe, just maybe, Coughlin, who seems to have a bit of a soft spot for Carter, is not sure what Carter's grade is yet.

And, don't be fooled. Carter knows his situation, and that he still has time to improve his grade.

"(These last four games), gives me a chance to show some of the stuff that Amani's taught me over the years," he said.

And, as for the pressure of trying to justify his spot next season?

"I think you try not to focus on that type of stuff," he said. "But the way you approach it is you go out and play as hard as you can. And take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. And, whatever happens, happens."

The Giants want to see Carter produce as they push for one of the two wild-card spots in the playoffs over the season's final month. During that stretch they will want results, not extenuating circumstances. And, if Carter doesn't produce, who knows what team he will be playing for in '07 or just what his circumstances will be.

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