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Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Updated: January 6, 4:36 AM ET
Giants literally limped to finish line

By Ohm Youngmisuk
ESPNNewYork.com

At times this season, some New York Giants could be seen maneuvering through the locker room on a scooter-like contraption that allowed hobbled players to transport themselves without putting weight on an injured leg.

Mathias Kiwanuka
Do you wonder what the Giants defense would've been like with Mathias Kiwanuka? His coordinator sure does.

And when the Giants cleaned out their lockers on Monday, Rich Seubert made his way to his locker on crutches while Hakeem Nicks walked with a boot on his foot.

From the offseason down to the final day of the season, the Giants had to deal with several injuries -- which are as much a part of the fabric of NFL life as practice and film study. The Giants, though, did have to deal with several to their offensive line and wide receivers.

They had 12 players on injured reserve at the end of the season, not including players like Sinorice Moss, who was placed on IR and then waived.

By comparison, playoff teams like the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts both had 16 players on their respective season-ending injured reserved lists. So every team deals with the injuries, and some have it worse.

"Some of the injuries to key players affected us," said Steve Tisch, the Giants' chairman and executive vice president. "But then again the guys who stepped in, in most situations, really filled those holes.

"Every team has injuries and I think this year the injuries hurt us a little more maybe than some other teams. But it never got us down and never diminished our spirit to win and play as a team."

Still, you can't help but wonder:

• Perhaps the Giants (10-6) could've won one more game and reached the playoffs had Mathias Kiwanuka, the team's most versatile defensive player, not been lost to a neck injury in late October.

• Maybe the Giants beat the Philadelphia Eagles at least once if Steve Smith was healthy. Smith missed both Eagles games, one due to a pectoral injury and the other because of a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve right before the home collapse to the Eagles.

• Who knows what the special teams would have looked like if returner Domenik Hixon didn't make that one cut on the fresh turf at the New Meadowlands Stadium and suffer a season-ending ACL injury during the team's first practice there?

• Perhaps third-round pick Chad Jones would have been able to contribute on special teams had he not been involved in a car accident that has left his career in jeopardy.

While the Giants did struggle to replace Hixon on punt returns, they did well at managing injuries to the offensive line and about as good as they could when the injury bug bit the receiving corps.

The Giants had their starting offensive linemen together for a total of only six games, as foot and Achilles injuries hampered center Shaun O'Hara all season. Tom Coughlin had to start six different starting combinations on the line as O'Hara, Shawn Andrews (back) and David Diehl (hip/hamstring) all missed time. Even backups William Beatty and Adam Koets suffered serious injuries.

But the Giants' line excelled at times as Seubert, Kevin Boothe and Diehl showed their versatility and played different positions.

Injuries created opportunities for many. When fullback Madison Hedgecock hurt his hamstring four games into the season, the Giants found a player in tight end Bear Pascoe, who moved to fullback and thrived.

The injuries to the wide receivers unit are the ones that might've played a part in keeping the Giants out of the postseason for a second straight season.

Eli Manning threw a league-high 25 interceptions and five of his receivers landed on injured reserve. The Giants had to place Smith, Ramses Barden, Victor Cruz, Moss and Hixon all on IR in 2010.

The team added Derek Hagan, Michael Clayton and Devin Thomas all in November during a time when a quarterback and his receivers should be well into a groove.

The Giants still won two games against Jacksonville and Washington despite their top two receivers -- Nicks and Smith -- sitting out due to injuries. But if Manning had more continuity with his receivers, he might have had five to 10 fewer interceptions.

After injuries to key players like Antonio Pierce, Kenny Phillips, Aaron Ross, Chris Canty and Brandon Jacobs helped lead to a disappointing 8-8 finish in 2009, general manager Jerry Reese's goal in the offseason was to provide the team with depth to withstand more injuries.

"We had some depth," Reese said. "The offensive line, for instance, we shuffled them back three or four times and were able to get through with it and the receivers, we scrambled with the receivers two or three times.

"Those really were our spots where we got banged up the most and we got through it good enough to get us where we wanted to be, but it just didn't happen for us."

The Giants never used injuries as an excuse. And several Giants, such as Osi Umenyiora and Barry Cofield, played through pain. Both said this week that they will need offseason surgery.

With a potential lockout looming, there could be plenty of time for players to heal up for next season. The Giants hope they'll have better luck with health in 2011.

As for 2010, they can only wonder what might've been had the Giants been at full-strength or even a little bit healthier in one of those two games against the Eagles.

"I think about that all the time," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said last week when asked how different life might've been if he had Kiwanuka to use all season long.

"Tom tells me, 'Don't cry over spilled milk.' You never know the impact of a player, but I think about [Kiwanuka ] like, 'Boy if we had him, we could do this, we could do this. We would be like this, we would be like that. We could change our complexion a little bit more.'

"But we'll never know."