The Giants have been one of the hottest teams in the NFL over the last eight weeks, but now they have something new to deal with – injuries. At midweek, the alternate plans weren't completely certain.
All during the Giants' six-game winning streak, which was snapped Nov. 11 by the Dallas Cowboys
, and the subsequent righting of the ship last Sunday in Detroit, the one factor that stood out above the rest was the state of the team's health, especially among the starters.
Nobody missed a beat. Oh, sure, there were the usual incidences of pulls and sprains, bumps and bruises, but nobody missed significant time. Running back Brandon Jacobs
was the longest in terms of bench-sitting. He was out for three-and-a-half weeks following an opening-day knee sprain vs. Dallas.
But in his stead, and somewhat surprisingly, there was backup Derrick Ward
, who reeled off 448 yards on 101 carries until he missed the last three games with ankle and groin issues.
But now, as the Giants prepare to take their 7-3 record and put it on the home field against the Minnesota Vikings
, injury has made an appearance and visited head coach Tom Coughlin. Strongside linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, the club's first-round selection a year ago who converted from defensive end, suffered a fractured left fibula (that's a broken leg in laymen's terms) on the second play last week in Detroit and was placed on the injured reserve list Tuesday.
Kiwanuka underwent surgery to "stabilize the ankle and the fibula," Coughlin explained, "and he's out now that we put him on the I.R."
In his place? Well, that isn't quite certain yet. The obvious choice would be his backup, Reggie Torbor
, but he has come up small when given the chance to start in the past. He finished the game in Detroit and, as Coughlin said with a lukewarm lack of enthusiasm, "he played well for us to win the game."
Other options would be to move weakside linebacker Kawika Mitchell
to the strong side and plug in Gerris Wilkinson
. Another would be to shift young Chase Blackburn
, normally the backup to middle linebacker Antonio Pierce
, to the strong side. That, in any case, would necessitate only one new starter in the linebacker corps.
Kiwanuka had several responsibilities in coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's new system, especially in pass coverage (he played end and tackle as well as linebacker), and now the Giants must decide how to accomplish that versatility and who it will take to do it. Tackle Fred Robbins
was used in pass-rush situations against the Lions and he could be one of the plug-ins.
"We are working on that," said Coughlin.
RB Brandon Jacobs, the Giants' leading rusher with 599 yards, will miss the game Sunday vs. the Vikings. He "slightly" pulled a hamstring last week in Detroit and while the injury is considered less than serious, he nevertheless will be kept off the field as a precaution. With Derrick Ward (ankle, groin) still questionable, RB Reuben Droughns will start.
RB Patrick Pass was signed to replace SLB Mathias Kiwanuka on the roster. Pass, 5-11 and 228, played seven NFL seasons with the New England Patriots. He was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury after the third game last season and signed last summer with Houston but was released Aug. 28. He was on the three Patriots Super Bowl teams, having joined them as a seventh-round pick via Georgia in the 2000 draft.
WR Anthony Mix, of whom so much was expected and so little received, was signed off the Giants' practice squad by the Washington Redskins last Tuesday. He is 6-5, 235 and an undrafted free agent from Auburn.
Former Vikings WR Todd Lowber, previously on the Giants' practice squad from Sept. 20 to Oct. 3, was re-signed to replace Mix, whose contribution this season was three receptions for 39 yards vs. Green Bay in Week 2.
Former SLB LaVar Arrington was briefly rumored to be a possible signee after the injury to Kiwanuka, but that was quickly shot down by the team. "He's retired," said one spokesperson, "and the last time we saw him he had lost a ton of weight, maybe down to 200, 210."
QB Eli Manning has a quarrel with those who accuse the Giants of building their 7-3 record on the corpses of weak teams. "We can play only those teams on our schedule," he said. "We beat the teams we were supposed to beat, and the three we lost (twice to Dallas, once to Green Bay) were against the other top teams in our conference."
OLT David Diehl looks at the burgeoning "pennant race" thoughtfully. "The teams that have to beat us do their best, but we are still better," he says. "I thought Detroit was a good team and we kept them pretty much under control. I think as we go along, we'll be acquiring more confidence each week."
MLB Antonio Pierce refuses to give up on the team's chances of winning the NFC East despite the two-game deficit the Giants face when compared to the leader, Dallas. "We're a good team and we should have at least split with them," he says. "I think they're going to slip a couple of times. It's up to us not to do the same thing."
TE Jeremy Shockey has been released from his blocking assignments, for the most part, as offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride phases down the "max protect" formation for QB Eli Manning. So now Shockey is a receiver again, and in the last two games has caught 16 passes.
SS James Butler must have been jolted to attention against Dallas, when he was taken out in the second half for rookie Michael Johnson, who played reasonably well. Butler responded against Detroit with a far stronger game, and came down with an end-zone interception in the fourth quarter.
RG Chris Snee and RT Kareem McKenzie have earned the reputation as the "road graders" for the Giants' running game. Both have been outstanding in run blocking, especially Snee, of whom one of the Cowboys defenders said two weeks ago: "He's like a truck with 18 wheels, just keeps moving forward."
CB Aaron Ross, the club's first-round pick, appears to have hit a plateau the last two games but has maintained his starting status nevertheless. He had a zero stat line vs. Detroit.
Former Giants defensive back and assistant coach Dick Nolan, later head coach in New Orleans and San Francisco and father of current 49ers head coach Mike Nolan, died last week of symptoms associated with Alzheimer's disease. He was 75.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 — The Giants are the only team in the NFC with a 7-3 record, two games behind the Packers and Cowboys (who are 9-1). If the season ended today, they'd be the first wild-card seed, and since the season isn't over, they are the third seed among all conference teams.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Did he (Lions QB Jon Kitna) really say that we aren't as good as they are? I don't understand that. Tell him if we have to play them again, we'll just kick their ass again, too." — Giants DE Michael Strahan, responding to an ill-advised statement by an upset Kitna after the Giants' 16-10 victory.