KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Eli Manning is off to the best statistical start of his career. He's had four straight games with a passer rating of more than 90 for the first time as a pro, has eight touchdown passes and two interceptions, and has the Giants off to a 4-0 start.
But when Manning dropped back to throw to Steve Smith early in the fourth quarter Sunday and injured his right foot, all he could think about was the worst-case scenario.
"Any time you feel a little pull or strain, especially down there, you get nervous," Manning said after the Giants' 27-16 win over the Chiefs. "You don't know what it is. You kind of feel like it's an Achilles or something.
"But," Manning said before a gasp could spread throughout the land, "it wasn't that."
The Giants are calling the injury a bruised heel. Manning said he isn't sure what it is and that he'll probably know more Monday after tests to determine the nature and extent of it.
Though Manning was able to limp off the field under his own power and walked around after the game with the right foot heavily wrapped, there is some concern about his short-term well-being.
Manning has started 75 consecutive regular-season games plus seven postseason games, an 82-game streak that dates to his first start late in his rookie year. Tom Coughlin said Manning could not have returned Sunday if needed. Will he be ready for Sunday's game against the Raiders?
"We're just going to have to wait and see," Coughlin said.
Even Manning's certainty on playing in the next game wasn't firm. "I don't think it's awful," he said. "I've been injured worse before. We'll see how it feels throughout the week."
It was a strange non-contact injury, which is what led many to the first instinct that he had injured his Achilles tendon. That's usually a season-ending injury. It happened to Vinny Testaverde and Dan Marino in similar ways in years past: dropping back, planting to come forward, then feeling pain.
"I knew after a second, it wasn't that," Manning said. "I could stand up, I could still walk around, put some pressure on it. I was more relieved after that."
At the end of that drop, Manning did jump as if he'd planted his right foot on the third rail. He unloaded a long pass to Smith, then fell. He limped back to the huddle and called the next play, a screen pass to his left to Hakeem Nicks. Manning threw the pass and hobbled off the field while Nicks was busy turning the short pass into a 54-yard touchdown.
Coughlin spoke about what was going through his mind as Manning first started limping.
"Was he hurt? Did he get hurt? Did something take place out there that I didn't see?" Coughlin said. "I didn't really think there was any contact. It was just one of those things; he was driving into the throw and all of a sudden he showed that he had a little issue."
Manning finished 20-for-34 for 292 yards and three touchdown passes. The first two were to Smith, who caught 11 passes for 134 yards. The Giants led 20-3 after three quarters, but two Chiefs touchdowns - the first against the Giants' defense since late in the Cowboys game in Week 2 - brought the final score closer.
David Carr, who replaced Manning, was sacked once and threw two passes, both incompletions. If Manning is unable to play Sunday, Carr will start.
The closest Manning has come to not starting during his streak was after the opening game of the 2007 Super Bowl season, when he left the field in Dallas with a shoulder injury. Amid speculation that he could be out for up to a month, he returned the following week. That likely was the situation Manning referred to when he said he's been hurt worse in the past.
He did say he expects to play in the Giants' next game, although it was with less than a guarantee.
"That's kind of the assumption," he said. "I always assume that I'm going to play, that I'm going to be out there. I've always been a pretty quick healer. I'll be doing everything I can possibly do this week to get healthy and get prepared to play Oakland."
>> Photos: Giants beat Chiefs, improve to 4-0