Steve Smith is not the Giants' big-play receiver in terms of flashy touchdowns and long gains. But he's probably their most consistent route-runner, and his knack for converting difficult third downs has gained Eli Manning's trust. So although he doesn't have the best stats, you can easily say Smith is the Giants' most important receiver.
That's why losing him for the rest of the season is such a blow to a team with three games left in its push for the playoffs and looking for a deep run in January.
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Smith was taken out of the game against the Vikings Monday with what the Giants called a hamstring injury after an awkward tackle doubled him over backward in the fourth quarter. By Tuesday night, an MRI had revealed an articular cartilage injury to his left knee that will require season-ending surgery. Smith will become the fifth Giants receiver to land on injured reserve this season, but his loss could have more of an impact than the other four combined.
"Our team just has to march on," Tom Coughlin said. "Someone else has got to step up there and do the job that we would have asked Steve to do."
The Giants already have played most of the last month without Smith, who suffered a pectoral injury in practice Nov. 11. He finally returned against the Vikings and played sparingly before taking on a larger role as starter Mario Manningham strained a hip flexor.
The Giants waited through Smith's first injury, knowing he eventually would return. This time, there is no looking ahead.
"Steve is Steve and you can't mimic him in any way, the way he runs his routes and catches the ball," Brandon Jacobs said. "He's very reliable. But at the same time we have tremendous depth at wide receiver. You can most definitely have some guys who can come in and be effective and do just what we need them to do to get over the top."
Manningham said he will play Sunday against the Eagles, even though he might not practice until Thursday. He said even if Smith were healthy that he'd be on the field, so he's not pushing through his injury. Nicks, who missed two games after surgery on his lower leg, said he came through his first game back against the Vikings without any setbacks and has had all of the stitches removed.
That the Giants have had so many injuries at receiver could help them get through the loss of Smith. Along the way they added Derek Hagan, Michael Clayton and Devin Thomas, who were force-fed the offense.
Said Manning: "The good thing is we have a lot of receivers who, because of injuries, have been here for the last month or so and are up to date on what's going on. We've got Hakeem back, we have Mario, he's playing well. We have numbers now where we can put guys in different positions and they can go out there and play well."
The Giants also know how to function without Smith because they did it for four weeks. Nicks played two of those games - both losses - including one against the Eagles. He said looking back on how Philadelphia schemed against him will help in preparation for Sunday's game.
But Nicks also was injured in the first Eagles game, in which he had six catches for 65 yards. The injury happened early in the second quarter, he said. "I don't like making excuses," he said of that game. "If I'm out there, I'm going to still be going."
Nicks was asked if the Eagles will see a different player than the injured one they saw for most of the game last month. "Definitely," he said. "I will let my game rise this week."
The Giants will need that from him and the other receivers.