Mathias Kiwanuka, the Giants' most consistent and versatile defensive player this season, has been diagnosed with a bulging disc in his neck that will keep him out of Sunday's game against the Bears and beyond. Possibly far beyond.
The Giants said the defensive end first complained of a stiff neck Thursday morning and had an MRI after practicing fully that day. He again practiced fully Friday - although he avoided contact in his head and neck area - before undergoing a CT scan at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan.
Kiwanuka was examined by team physician Dr. Russell Warren, who consulted with Dr. Frank Camissa, the spine specialist at HSS, and was diagnosed with a bulging cervical disc.
The Giants have no timetable for Kiwanuka's return. They will rest him and hope the bulge disappears on its own. Surgery, which could be an option to repair the disc, would end his season.
"It's disappointing," Kiwanuka said in a statement. "It just feels like a stiff neck. The pain is not intolerable but I want to make sure that I will be OK down the line."
The injury is similar to the one that ended Antonio Pierce's season - and his career - in 2009. Then, too, the Giants waited to see if the bulge would "quiet down" on its own. It did not, and Pierce was put on injured reserve after a second opinion and two weeks of waiting.
The loss of Kiwanuka is a surprising blow to a defense that already was dealing with injuries. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora missed Friday's practice, visited with doctors for a report on his sore right knee and is listed as questionable. So is defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, who missed the week of practices with a back injury. Linebacker Keith Bulluck is doubtful and likely will miss Sunday's game with turf toe.
"Obviously, Kiwi is a big part of our plans," Tom Coughlin said. "He's had a very good season. He's very flexible. He's a versatile athlete who can be used in a lot of different ways. So now we have to regroup and try to figure out how we're going to utilize our personnel for this game."
Kiwanuka entered the preseason looking to win a starting job at defensive end. He wound up playing end, tackle and even linebacker as the Giants took advantage of his athleticism. He leads the Giants with four sacks - no one else has more than one - and has 11 tackles.
The Giants' first-round draft pick in 2006, Kiwanuka is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of this season. He might not play again this year - and might never play for the Giants again - but Kiwanuka said he is focused on returning.
"I have full trust in the medical staff and the trainers at the Giants," he said. "I'm going to do everything that is asked of me so when I'm cleared, I'll be back and ready to go."
Notes & quotes: Expect LB Clint Sintim to start in place of Bulluck . . . David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie were fined $5,000 each for unnecessary roughness, Adam Koets was fined $5,000 for a major facemask and Ahmad Bradshaw was fined $2,500 for a chop block in the Titans game last week.