Eli Manning is not going to have go-to Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith for rest of the season, and maybe longer.
Smith injured the articular cartilage in his left knee in the win over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday and will need season-ending knee surgery.
An orthopedic surgeon told The Associated Press the surgery requires a very long rehabilitation process, but it is possible Smith might be ready for training camp.
Smith, who set a team record with 107 catches last season, was hurt on the opening play of the fourth quarter when he was tackled from behind on a 12-yard reception, his 48th of the season. The game was his first since partially tearing a pectoral muscle in practice on Nov. 11.
"I feel bad for Steve," coach Tom Coughlin said. "He fights his way back, he gets back on the field, he gets a little bit acclimated to game conditions again, and then is injured."
Smith is the fifth Giants' receiver to be knocked out since minicamp, and the third since the season started, joining Ramses Barden and Victor Cruz.
The bottom line is the Giants (9-4) will now face the Philadelphia Eagles (9-4) on Sunday in the showdown for first place in the NFC East with Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham being Manning's prime targets, and Derek Hagan, Michael Clayton and Devin Thomas filling in when the team uses three- or four-receiver packages.
Nicks returned to the lineup on Monday after missing three games with a lower leg injury and said he was sore on Wednesday. Manningham had to leave the game with a hip injury. While Manning called Smith's injury unfortunate, he said the other receivers have to step up.
"We have Hakeem back and Mario, those guys are playing well," Manning said. "Hagan has been here for a month and is playing well and Michael Clayton. We have numbers now, where we can put guys in different positions and they can go out there and play well."
The burden will fall on Nicks, who had seven catches for 96 yards against the Vikings. His nine touchdown receptions lead the team.
"I don't feel like it puts more pressure on me," he said. "I just have to rise up to the occasion. Mario Manningham will step up, Derek Hagan will step up. I'm just going to continue to hold it down on my part."
Manningham guaranteed that he would be ready for Sunday, despite missing the second half vs. the Vikings. He did not practice Wednesday.
"I'll be all right," he said. "Trust me. I'll be good to go."
Hagan, who has caught 13 passes since re-signing with the Giants four games ago, said it's all hands on deck for the injury-ravaged wide receiver corps.
"It's almost like every year there is one position which is always hurt on any team," said Hagan, who was cut at the end of training camp.
"It was the DBs last year. It's unfortunate, but injuries happen in this game and you have to have guys who can come in and play right away. Obviously, the team brought me back for a reason, to help this team win and I got to do what I got to do to get this victory."
Dr. Russell Warren examined Smith at the Hospital for Special Surgery on Tuesday and diagnosed the injury to the fourth-year player's articular cartilage. No date has been set for the surgery.
Dr. Michael Kelly, the chairman of department of orthopedic surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center, said the recovery period from surgery involving articular cartilage can be lengthy because the cartilage has no ability to regenerate itself. Kelly said the articulate cartilage helps cushion the bone.
"If articular cartilage surgery is performed, depending on the surgical procedure itself, the recovery involves limited weight bearing, so an extensive period on crutches, and then limited impact activity, such as running for many months," Kelly said in a telephone interview with the AP.
"It depends on what they do, the size and location. It all influences the recovery significantly. No matter how you do it, it takes a while."
Kelly said Smith has a chance to be ready for training camp.