EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -With the NFC wild-card game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two days away, New York Giants linebacker Kawika Mitchell knows his chances of playing are iffy at best.
Sprain a knee a week before the playoffs start and it is unlikely that you going to be able to play the following Sunday. That's frustrating.
Even more frustrating is getting hurt in a game that means nothing.
That's what happened to Mitchell, center Shaun O'Hara and cornerback Sam Madison on Saturday when the Giants went all out in an effort to end the New England Patriots' run at a perfect season.
Mitchell sprained a medial collateral ligament on the Patriots' opening series. O'Hara went down with a similar injury in the second quarter and Madison aggravated an abdominal muscle in the second half.
Three starters is a heavy price to pay in a 38-35 loss, but maybe that's what made the game so good. The Giants (10-6) put it all on the line without reservation in what best embodied the warrior spirit of football.
``Obviously I wish I didn't play, but you can't do that,'' Mitchell said Thursday after missing his second straight day of practice. ``We went out there and tried to win the game. That was the team's mind-set and that was my mind-set. I don't feel bad about that. It's part of the game. It happens.''
O'Hara refused to be interviewed about his injury, and Madison did not make himself available in the locker room on Wednesday and Thursday. Neither has practiced for Sunday's game.
But teammates said they have no regrets about the way the Giants played in what was a meaningless game for them. No matter what happened, they were going to play in Tampa this weekend against the Bucs (9-7).
``It's a 16-game season and you have to go out play all the games,'' veteran defensive tackle Fred Robbins said. ``A team like the Patriots, you can't lay down against a good team like that, so we had to go out there just like any other game. We had to give it our all and give it our best.''
And the Giants almost pulled off the upset of the year, opening a 12-point second-half lead before Tom Brady and company rallied to finish a 16-0 season that claimed their spot in history.
Giants guard Chris Snee was annoyed with the suggestion that the team should have rested its starters, noting that only seven offensive linemen dress for each game, so some had to play.
``If we were to rest people, a lineman would not get rested,'' Snee said. ``He (O'Hara) would have been out there anyway. I don't want to hear any of that talk. We want to play all 16 games. It would not have mattered. He would have been out there.''
If Mitchell, O'Hara and Madison can't play, they will be replaced by Gerris Wilkinson, Grey Ruegamer and Kevin Dockery or Corey Webster, respectively. Dockery is the first choice to start in place of Madison, but he has been bothered by a hip flexor.
The Giants' approach to the end of the season was the opposite of Buccaneers' coach Jon Gruden, who rested several starters as the team lost its last two games.
``I'm trying to do what is right for our football team,'' he said. ``We have had a number of injuries. We have overcome a lot of injuries. Unfortunately for us, we can't overcome very many more. So I will be happy to take the heat if that is what it is.''
Quarterback Jeff Garcia, who missed a couple of games with a back problem, didn't start the season finale and he only played half of the penultimate game.
``I feel over-rested in a sense,'' said Garcia, who beat the Giants in wild-card games in January 2003 and last season. ``I feel restless, so to speak. It seems like it has been a while since I have actually played a complete game and I don't really like that feeling. I am more of an old-school mentality. I like to play until I am basically dragged off of the field.''
Garcia said there is something to be said for the approach each team took.
The final score of Sunday's game may indicate which was the right approach.

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