As he headed out to Charlotte, N.C., accompanied by head trainer Ronnie Barnes, Plaxico Burress admitted to an emotion altogether new to him.

"I was a little scared,'' Burress said.

Anyone who spends any time at all around Burress would be shocked to hear that, given his laid-back nature, physical presence and self-assured personality. But not even the mightiest tree can stand tall without the proper root structure and Burress knew the problem with his right ankle was nothing he could brush away with a wave of his hand.

This was Wednesday, Sept. 26 and Burress was set to be examined by foot and ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson. The Giants wanted to make sure that their medical staff was correctly diagnosing this particularly troublesome injury. Burress originally sprained his right ankle back on August 2 and aggravated the injury in the second game of the season when he was stepped on while facing the Packers. Three full weeks into the season, he could not shake the discomfort and was finding it increasingly difficult to make his way onto the practice field.

Anderson reviewed Burress' MRI and administered his own examination.

"Dr. Anderson confirmed our findings, which is that Plaxico has a serious sprain to his right ankle,'' said Barnes, the Giants vice president of medical services.

"It's really the worst kind of ankle sprain you can have, because it's real severe,'' Burress said. "I just have to keep trying to rehab it and trying to get better."

A serious sprain. It was an ominous-sounding conclusion but certainly not the worst news Burress or the Giants could have received. Upon returning from Charlotte, Burress knew he was not going to be able to practice much, if at all, in the near future, but he refused to consider the possibility of missing any games. "There's no question, I will play," he said about the game against the NFC East-rival Eagles three days later.

The only real remedy for Burress is rest, which he'll get during the week and then try to get on the field for limited work during practice on Fridays, simply to give him at least a semblance of a tune-up before playing in any games. The right ankle will continue to receive treatment and therapy and the team was prepared to explore all options as far as fitting Burress with special shoes, orthotics and braces.

Sitting Burress for a game or two was no doubt a consideration but the Giants need him badly. Through three games, he was off to one of the best starts of his career, with five touchdown receptions, tying him with Randy Moss of the Patriots for the NFL lead. Despite not playing one minute at full strength, Burress was tied with Amani Toomer and Jeremy Shockey for the team lead with 15 catches. Still, he knows as talented as he is, the value of practice is not merely lip-service.

"It's really frustrating, because I really want to get out there and practice," he said. "That's what really makes me feel more comfortable going into the game on Sunday. I'm going into the games now a little more nervous and with a little bit more butterflies. But I think I've been playing long enough to go into a game understanding where I need to be."

Burress showed how damaging not practicing can be with his uneven performance as the Giants battled the Redskins at FedEx Field. He went through what he described as the worst two quarters of football he's ever played, dropping three passes in the first half as the Giants fell behind 17-3, staring squarely at the possibility of an unsightly 0-3 record.

"I don't think I ever started off a game like that,'' Burress said. "I just had to keep fighting. If we'd have lost the game I'd have felt horrible.''

If the Giants had lost that game to the Redskins the season might have been lost as well.

"I came out, I had some bad plays,'' Burress recalled. "I came in at halftime, there was nobody more disappointed than myself, those are just things I don't do. I felt bad because I was letting my team down. The defense was playing great and I was out there just stinking it up, basically.''

What transpired after that personal soul-searching session provides a revealing look into what Burress is all about as an NFL receiver. He was a completely different player in the second half. He shook by Washington cornerback David Macklin for a 15-yard catch on the opening drive of the third quarter and his spark had been ignited. By the time he was done, he had five receptions for 86 yards and one dynamic 33-yard touchdown as the Giants pulled a reversal for a 24-17 comeback victory.

Playing despite increasing pain in his right ankle, Burress saved his best for last. With the Giants even at 17, Eli Manning with 5:32 remaining spotted a blitz and went with his hot read, flipping a three-yard pass that found Burress on the Redskins 30-yard line. Burress juked inside to dance around onrushing cornerback Carlos Rogers, who flew by and out of the play. Burress then made another sharp cut to lose safety Sean Taylor and sped to the goal line, where he was pummeled by safety LaRon Landry. Burress still forged his way into the end zone and the Giants had their winning points.

"I just had to keep fighting,'' Burress said. "I know I played like that in the first half and if we had lost the game I would have felt horrible. I still feel bad because I feel like I let my team down, but in the end I finished strong and we won the game.''

The foreseeable future figures to be a struggle for Burress, who has practiced infrequently ever since hurting his ankle back on Aug. 2. He missed most of training camp and all four preseason games (one because of the flu, another because of back spasms) and knows he's going to need every shred of concentration he can muster to prepare himself to play despite rarely practicing.

"I really don't want to have another letdown," Burress said. "My attention to details has to go up a little higher; my focus has to go up a little higher. Because I'm probably going to be a half-step slow, that means I have to do a little more studying to get as many advantages as I can."

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