EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -Sitting in front of his locker, New York Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka put his left leg into a knee-high protective boot and tightened the straps.
Before heading home on Thursday, the second-year pro fielded a couple of questions. They weren't the type he wanted to hear.
Instead of talking about facing Jeff Garcia and the Tampa Bay offense on Sunday in an NFC wild-card game, Kiwanuka spoke of next season.
His campaign ended in mid-November when Osi Umenyiora fell on his left leg and broke the fibula - the narrower of two bones that connect the knee to the ankle - in the first quarter of a 16-10 win over the Detroit Lions.
The broken leg, one of three suffered by the Giants this season, had to be surgically repaired.
``I'm just hanging out, this is a waiting period,'' Kiwanuka said. ``I just have to get healthy. Once they give me the clearance, I'll start doing more, get into it harder. Right now, I'm just doing what they tell me. If they say 'Stay off it,' I stay off it.''
Kiwanuka, who had 47 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks in his first season since switching from defensive end to linebacker, doesn't know whether he will be ready for minicamp this spring. He guaranteed he will play next season.
For now, watching games is frustrating. Watching videotape of his injury is unthinkable.
``I can't do that,'' he said. ``I can't watch the film when other people get hurt, even when I don't know someone. I don't like to see injuries like that.''
When Kiwanuka was hurt, the Giants had a 6-3 record and were coming off a loss to Dallas. New York won three of its next four games and eventually clinched a third straight playoff berth with a win over Buffalo on the penultimate week of the season.
Kiwanuka, 24, feels his recovery is progressing, but he can't wait for the day that he can throw away his crutches, get out and run, and even do the little things like carry his groceries up the stairs.
``Once I am off the crutches and I can get around on my own, that will be the first milestone,'' Kiwanuka said, adding that his family has been helping with those little things during the past six weeks.
The second step will be getting back in the training room and eventually back on the field.
In the meantime, Kiwanuka wouldn't mind taking a trip. While the team hasn't asked him, he would be willing to go to Tampa for Sunday's game. Even better would be a trip to Phoenix in early February.
The Giants would need to put together a three-game winning streak for that to happen.

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