Just four days before the New York Giants face one of the biggest games of the season, hosting the Chicago Bears in a Sunday night NFC showdown, the team stunningly lost 11-year veteran wide receiver Amani Toomer on Wednesday for the balance of the year.
The franchise career leader in receptions and receiving yards, Toomer was diagnosed as having a partial tear to the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee. The discovery was made Tuesday night during a MRI exam, after Toomer experienced discomfort in the knee. Both the team and the wide receiver felt originally that the injury was far less serious.
"I didn't think anything of it," Toomer told the team's Web site. "It was very disappointing when I got the MRI back."
The injury comes not only as the Giants prepare for the game against the Bears, but also as their other starting wide receiver, Plaxico Burress, is battling through back spasms that sidelined him last Sunday. Burress has vowed to return to the lineup this week. Toomer is likely to be replaced by five-year veteran Tim Carter, a wideout with big-play potential whose career has been sidetracked by injuries.
Toomer, 32, apparently suffered the injury in last Sunday's 14-10 victory over the Houston Texans, but he is not certain at what point in the game the injury occurred. He will undergo surgery in coming days, and the Giants expect him to be fully rehabilitated well in advance of training camp next summer.
After consulting with team orthopedist Dr. Russell Warren on Wednesday morning, Toomer was presented with a choice: attempt to rehabilitate the knee through non-surgical treatment or undergo surgery, miss the rest of this season, and return whole for 2007. Toomer felt the damage to the ACL was serious enough to warrant the surgery.
"It's unstable at this point," Toomer said. "I just want to fix it. ... Going out there and not being able to perform to the best of my ability is worse than getting it fixed now and taking the time for it to heal. I"m disappointed I"m not going to be able to play for the Giants now."
New York has been beset by injuries on defense over the past three weeks, but the loss of Toomer is the first major setback to the high-powered offensive unit. The Giants have lost linebacker LaVar Arrington (Achilles) for the season. On Sunday, they will be without their tandem of Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora (hip) and Michael Strahan (foot).
Through eight games, Toomer is tied for the team lead in receptions, with 32. He has 360 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
"Here is a young man who had dedicated himself to having a good year, and he was playing well," Giants coach Tom Coughlin told The Associated Press. "He has done anything we have asked of him. His numbers and big plays speak for themselves, but time and time again, he does the things that maybe people on the outside don't notice as much. But they are the kinds of things that make a difference in the ballgame."
A second-round choice in the 1996 draft, Toomer has 561 career catches for 8,157 yards and 47 touchdown receptions. The former University of Michigan star has six seasons with 60-plus receptions and posted five straight 1,000-yard campaigns 1999-2003. He has played in 158 games, with 114 starts.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.