By Michael Eisen
Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce today was placed on injured reserve, officially ending his 2009 season. Pierce, who was leading the Giants in tackles for the fourth consecutive season, was diagnosed with a bulging disc in his neck on Nov. 20. The Giants said then that Pierce would be sidelined indefinitely. But the team believes Pierce’s neck injury will not improve enough for him to return to the field this season.
“The doctors have told me that given my current condition, the risk of playing is too great, regardless of how I feel physically,” Pierce said. “That is the most disappointing part of this, because I feel great and have no pain. But I will keep my head up and be there the rest of the way to do my part to keep the boys going.”
“He’s certainly going to be missed,” Coach Tom Coughlin said. “You have a guy who’s been a three-year captain. He’s an outstanding leader. He rallies the troops as well as anybody we’ve had. He’s a very strong personality, obviously. He’s a very, very smart player. He could make a lot of significant adjustments. He made all the checks from the defensive standpoint."
Pierce suffered a burner in the Arizona game on Oct. 25. He experienced very little discomfort until he practiced the week prior to the Nov. 22 victory over Atlanta. That Friday, the Giants’ medical staff sent Pierce to the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan for an MRI. Pierce was examined by team physician Dr. Russell Warren and Dr. Frank Camissa, Chief of the Spinal Surgical Services at HSS. They diagnosed the bulging disc.
Pierce said he was “shocked” when he received the news from the doctors.
“(He) was so abruptly taken away,” Coughlin said. “The original shock was that he was going over there to get an MRI just to see what the status was. We didn’t expect this kind of news.
“Originally our concerns were for him and I told the team this. In a team meeting I said, ‘Our concerns are for A.P., because it was a shock for him.' I remember seeing him right after he found out the news and he couldn’t hold back the tears. He’s a very emotional guy. He loves the game, loves to play. He’s very smart. He does an outstanding job with all the intellectual parts of the game. The players have relied and depended on him.”
Pierce has been the Giants’ middle linebacker since 2005 and a team captain each of the last three seasons. When he was sidelined, Pierce had 51 tackles (31 solo), one more than Terrell Thomas. The nine-year veteran and fifth-year Giant had three tackles for losses, a sack, two passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Pierce has been a durable player since joining the Giants as a free agent in 2005. He was a Pro Bowler the following year. Pierce has played in 69 of 73 regular season games and six of seven postseason games. He had started every game this season before the neck injury surfaced. In 2008, he missed a victory over San Francisco with a quad injury. Previously, his most serious injury was a severely sprained ankle in 2005, which kept him out of the final three regular season games and the NFC Wild Card Game vs. Carolina (though the Giants did not place him on injured reserve).
Five-year veteran Chase Blackburn has started the previous two games at middle linebacker. He finished with seven tackles (three solo) in the victory over Atlanta and seven more (six solo) in the loss at Denver on Thanksgiving night.
“He (Pierce) cannot play any more this season and other players are going to have to recognize what his contribution was to the defense and to the team,” Coughlin said. “They’re going to have to play better – they’re going to have to step up and play better.”
The Giants have not yet made a roster move to fill Pierce's void on the active roster.