The 10 Most Important Giants

Patriots fans experienced a special blend of heartbreak and devastation when Tom Brady was knocked out for the season. Fans of the other 31 teams also shared a deflating sentiment: What if our starting quarterback went down?

The Giants were struck by the injury bullet before official games even started. But as good as he is, Osi Umenyiora could be, and has been, replaced. As for Eli Manning... Let's just say we'd love to see David Carr attach himself to a clipboard until the offseason.

Who else could the Giants least afford to lose? I counted 10, which works perfectly as a nice round number. Here's a top 10 list, by order of importance, that Giants fans hope represents the last time they see these names beside the word ‘injury.'

1. Manning: The Giants would go from a championship contender to a team fighting for eight wins if Cooper's brother went down. Could Carr get them into the playoffs? Maybe. But he'd have to smooth his game in a hurry, especially pocket skittishness caused by years of looking up at the lights with Houston.

2. Plaxico Burress: He would be almost as tough a loss as Manning. I can't imagine where the Giants would be, or where they'd be headed, without Burress. As much as he's a marvel, Amani Toomer's days are over as a number one receiver. Steve Smith isn't ready for that kind of responsibility.

Mario Manningham? Sinorice Moss? You get the point.

Burress wouldn't only take the Giants' passing game with him if he went. He'd likely take a playoff berth with him as well.

3. David Diehl: Nothing against Diehl's backup at left tackle, Kevin Boothe. But I'd rather not see him trying to contain some of the quickest defensive ends in the league with Manning's blind side in the crosshairs. Boothe has played in 17 regular-season games since being taken by Oakland in the sixth round of the 2006 draft. He's also been cut by the Raiders.

Critics of Diehl's struggles against speedy pass-rushing stars should know that the Giants allowed the 12th fewest sacks in the league last season, 28, Diehl's first full year starting at left tackle.

4. Justin Tuck: The Giants are running out of defensive ends, and Tuck going down would represent a full-fledged shortage. Not only would Tuck's absence create a huge pass-rushing void, and intensify the pressure on Mathias Kiwanuka, but the Giants would lose a valued leader.

Tuck's on the cusp of a trip to the Pro Bowl. Without him, the Giants and an entirely different defense would be on the cusp of mediocrity.

5. Antonio Pierce: He's the first player to say that these Giants have plenty of leaders. But Pierce is one of a kind, both on the field and in the locker room.

After Pierce suffered a season-ending injury in December 2005, the Giants lost two of their final four games, including that putrid 23-0 loss to Carolina in which the Panthers held the ball for almost 43:00.

Oh, and Pierce has led the Giants in tackles each of the past two seasons.

6. Jeff Feagles: As valuable as he is, Feagles is still kind of a forgotten hero in media and fan circles. Coaches and astute followers realize and appreciate Feagles' weekly impact on games. Heck, if it were up to Tom Coughlin, Feagles would be punting until he needs a walker to get on the field.

Forget his overall and net averages, two wildly deceptive statistics. Feagles consistently leaves returners trying to retrieve punts a couple inches from either sideline, automatically diminishing any chance of a decent return. That's when he isn't placing the ball perfectly out of bounds or putting a divot on the 3-yard line.

Of his four punts in the opener, three were spotted inside Washington's 20. One of the three punts was returned, for minus-2 yards.v Comparatively, St. Louis' Donnie Jones, who was averaging a league-high 48.5 yards after one week, had 3-of-10 punts inside the 20 against Philadelphia. And the Eagles wound up with 97 return yards.

7. Chris Snee: The Giants could have 10 quality running backs, and every one of them would suddenly encounter crowds of defenders at the line of scrimmage if Snee were sidelined. He's incredibly durable, having started every game the past three seasons, and rarely makes mistakes.

8. Kiwanuka: Given the team's sudden lack of depth at D-end and its reliance on an aggressive pass rush, Kiwanuka would have a dramatic effect on the Giants' chances if he went down. He's growing into a very good NFL defensive end, and Tuck needs a legitimate threat on the other side to somewhat ease the burden.

9. Shaun O'Hara: He's another huge contributor to one of the best O-lines in football. O'Hara's another valuable leader, a guy who keeps teammates loose while frustrating opponents with an anything-goes attitude.

"I love center because as much as there is the physical aspect of the game, there's also a little bit of the mental aspect,'' O'Hara said a few days before the Super Bowl. "As an offensive lineman, you've officially arrived when someone calls you dirty.''

10. Aaron Ross: Corey Webster earned a lot of attention with his resurgence last season. But Ross is the one cornerback the Giants can least afford to lose.

He's gotten a lot of publicity lately with his fiancée, Sanya Richards, medaling in the Beijing Olympics. But long before Richards was headed to Beijing, Ross was becoming one of the most important members of the Super Bowl champions.

He was the nickel back through the Giants' 0-2 start before starting in place of Webster in the second half of the third game against Washington. The Giants rebounded from a 17-3 halftime deficit to beat Washington. They won six of their next seven games to move into playoff position and, well, you probably heard how things went the rest of the way.

Kevin Gleason covers the Giants for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y.

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