Safe and Sound, Kiwi Back Home at DE

It would have been too much for the Giants to bear if Redskins left tackle Chris Samuels had fallen a few inches to the left or right or come down with slightly more force on the left leg of Mathias Kiwanuka.

It would have been too much for Kiwanuka to bear if indeed Samuels, at the tail end of a sinister-looking play, hit that left leg at a different angle or with a bit more velocity.

No doubt, it would have been unbearable for all concerned if Kiwanuka suffered what at first looked to be another serious injury to rob him of playing time and, perhaps, his sanity.

The Giants need Kiwanuka, now more than ever. The season-ending loss of Osi Umenyiora following knee surgery triggered the move of Kiwanuka from strong side linebacker back to his natural defensive end position. In his very first game back, the Giants already secured an inelegant but defensively artistic 16-7 victory over the Redskins when in the final seconds quarterback Jason Campbell was futilely trying to complete a last-gasp and too-late drive. As he faded back, Kiwanuka knew what was coming and like a jet on takeoff accelerated and easily shot past Samuels, a tough left tackle. Kiwanuka had a clear path to Campbell and so Samuels protected his quarterback with an action that showed a lack of judgment.

Samuels from behind leaped at Kiwanuka's legs, landing directly on his lower left leg, an illegal tackle that prompted a penalty flag that was not enforced, as the game clock expired.

Samuels waved his arms in frustration, as if he was disappointed in what transpired.

"He just turned around and jumped on my ankle, simple as that,'' said Kiwanuka, who labeled the play as dirty. "I don't know that he targeted my hurt ankle, I don't think he thought that deep into it, but he definitely, trying to save a play, intentionally did something I felt like was just out of line.

"You take hits. I took a big hit during the game, at this level it's something that happens. The greatest players get knocked down, you've got to be able to stand back up, be a man and line up for the next snap. Something like that, I would never do it, having been out for the end of last season I know how valuable these games are and I would never do it to anybody and I wouldn't expect anybody to do that to me.''

Kiwanuka stayed down and gave the Giants quite a scare. For a moment, he thought he might be seriously hurt. Last season, back on Nov. 18 in Detroit he suffered a season-ending injury to his left lower leg (fractured fibula, torn ankle ligaments) and coursing through his mind was this: Not again.

Once he was able to get to his feet and put pressure on the leg, his fears subsided. The X-ray came back negative and Kiwanuka came away with soreness and swelling but no serious injury.

As level-headed a player as the Giants have in their locker room, Kiwanuka is not prone to threats but he could not contain himself when he said "This is a team we got to see twice a year so whatever should be said or could be said is going to take place on the field. There's no reason to get into banter back and forth.''

The cheap play left the Giants angered but also relieved.

"Not a pretty play,'' linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "I don't want to label anybody but obviously a play that shouldn't have happened. It happened, our guy's OK, he's healthy and that's all that matters now.''

That is all that matters now. Having Kiwanuka healthy and on the field is of utmost importance. The Giants need a bookend at defensive end to go along with Justin Tuck, as the loss of Umenyiora and Michael Strahan (to retirement) from one season to the next already puts the defensive unit at a disadvantage.

In his first regular-season game since his devastating injury from last season Kiwanuka showed why he's at home at end. He stopped Clinton Portis for a short gain on Washington's first possession, hit Ladell Betts for no gain later in the first quarter, and in the second quarter combined with Fred Robbins to stop Portis for no gain on third-and-1. Early in the third quarter, Kiwanuka pursued Portis and sent him backwards for a two-yard loss.

He was developing into a solid linebacker and might have become a difference-maker at that position. He was drafted in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft to eventually replace Strahan as a pass-rushing end and although he took one for the team with his position switch, his heart never left the line.

When Umenyiora went down, Kiwanuka got the call from Tom Coughlin. You're back to being a defensive end.

"I couldn't hide my smile,'' Kiwanuka said. "I was smiling the whole day. It was bittersweet because Osi had to go down for it to happen. I was just there a year ago, honestly that sucks, because you don't ever want to see anybody go down, especially somebody who plays that hard and practices that hard. For me it was definitely exciting and something I'd been waiting for for a while.''

There was no selling needed to his teammates.

"I think that would be a smooth transition for him,'' Tuck said. "It's not like it's a foreign position for him.''

Said Pierce, "You know what, honestly, Kiwi wanted to be a defensive end ever since that move happened, he did what was best for the team, now he's doing what's best for the team again.''

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