Painful Loss: Prince Amukamara Hurt as Bears Beat Giants

What a rough week, especially for a prince.

After the New York Giants’ first team outplayed that of the Chicago Bears (2-1, preseason) to lead 17-7 at halftime during a Week 3 preseason game at MetLife Stadium on Friday night, the Bears’ reserves scored the final 13 points against the Giants’ backups, to rally for a 20-17 victory.

The much bigger loss for New York (1-2, preseason) however, was the addition of another key cornerback to its walking wounded list.

For the second time in as many NFL seasons, 2011 first-round draft pick, cornerback back Prince Amukamara, could miss several weeks to start the regular season, after suffering a high right ankle sprain while making a diving tackle late in the first quarter.

Amukamara, who missed the first six games of his rookie season with a broken foot, was slated to start at cornerback in place of fellow cornerback Terrell Thomas, who is expected to be out of the lineup until at least the middle of the season, after re-aggravating an old anterior cruciate ligament injury on July 30th.

Thomas, a 2008 second-round selection, tore the same ACL in 2005, during his college days at USC, and ironically tore it again in a preseason win against the Bears, one year and two nights before Amukamara similarly derailed the start of another regular season on the same field, and against the same opponent.

It marked the end of a difficult week for Amukamara, who despite being of royal Nigerian descent, received anything but the royal treatment from his own teammates, when he was picked up and placed into a tub of ice water as part of a hazing stunt at the Giants’ training facility to start the week.

Coupled with Thomas’ absence, the loss of Amukamara leaves New York’s already-thin secondary even more depleted after the offseason defection of former starting cornerback Aaron Ross to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and an apparent mild turf toe injury to third-round rookie draft pick, cornerback Jayron Hosley, who shined last week with a game-turning 77-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Giants’ preseason win over the New York Jets.

Starting linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, one of the more active and key players in the middle of the Giants’ defense, also strained his groin on the final play of the opening half.

Apart from the health concerns, New York’s other first-stringers largely impressed while taking their halftime lead into the locker room before turning things over to the second team to begin the third quarter.

On their third possession, the Bears went 59 yards on seven plays to take a 7-3 lead with 1:34 left in the first quarter on a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jay Cutler to wide receiver Brandon Marshall (five catches, 51 yards, touchdown), for Chicago’s first touchdown pass of the preseason.

That play underscored the Giants’ desperate need to find suitable replacements for Amukamara and Thomas (until they can return), as the Bears attacked the void left after Amukamara was carted off of the field.

Four plays after Amukamara went out, reserve cornerback Bruce Johnson (two tackles, one pass deflection) made a nice play to break up a pass for wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (one catch, nine yards) inside the 5-yard line, but it was miscommunication between Johnson and starting safety Kenny Phillips (four tackles) which resulted in Marshall’s touchdown, when Johnson let Marshall go by him along the left side, and Phillips didn’t pick Marshall up.

Otherwise, Chicago struggled to move the ball against New York’s first-team defense, punting on the two possessions that preceded that drive and on the two succeeding trips.

Greg Jones then recovered a punt (at the Chicago 10-yard line) that was blocked by Da’Rel Scott (5 carries, 16 yards), who later flashed his trademark speed while contributing a nice 15-yard run and a 12-yard reception within a four-play span during the third quarter.

Cutler was limited to just nine completions in 21 attempts, for 96 yards, and star running back Matt Forte (10 carries, 39 yards) was reduced to a non-factor in the first half, with just four yards on twice as many caries against the Giants’ regulars.

Offensively, New York’s second possession became the David Wilson (five carries, 49 yards; two catches, 26 yards) show as the rookie first-round pick singlehandedly moved his new team between the 12-yard lines on three consecutive plays.

Wilson first made a nice change-of-direction run on a play that was designed to go left. He instead, stopped and went right for an impressive 20-yard gain, before running left for another 15 yards on the next play. Quarterback Eli Manning (17-for-21, 148 yards, touchdown), who completed nine straight passes before his last one was dropped by wide receiver Victor Cruz (five catches, 28 yards), then hit Wilson on a short pass that the explosive young back turned into a 29-yard gain up the left side. A late hit out of bounds on Wilson tacked another 12 yards on to the end of the play.

The Giants couldn’t move any further after that and settled for a 3-0 lead on a 32-yard field goal by kicker Lawrence Tynes, who after kicking the Giants into Super Bowl XLVI on an NFC championship-winning kick in overtime last season, is a perfect 6-for-6 this preseason.

Two New York possessions later, the Giants regained a 10-7 lead on their best drive of the game, during which Manning was a flawless 7-for-7 for 59 yards while capping ten-play, 59-yard march with an 11-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ramses Barden (three catches, 46 yards, touchdown) with 5:33 left in the first half.

That score came against cornerback Charles Tillman, an all-pro last season, who recorded a game-high ten tackles, as Tillman thought Barden would fade outside, only to see the big 6-foot-6 target slant inside for the touchdown.

One play after Scott’s blocked punt, Barden drew a pass interference call on Tillman to set up a one-yard touchdown run by running back Andre Brown (six carries, three yards) on the ensuing play, to give New York a 17-7 lead with 1:17 remaining in the half.

Barden’s production was an encouraging sign for the 2009 third-round selection from small school Cal-Poly, who had been plagued by various injuries while the Giants have waited for him to emerge as the type of tall, athletic receiver who could make one of the league’s best passing attacks in even more potent, in the same way (even if to a smaller degree) that ex-Giant wide receiver Plaxico Burress helped Manning win his first Super Bowl MVP five years ago.

New York punted on its first six possessions of the second half and turned the ball over on its final drive of the game with backup quarterback David Carr (7-for-16, 76 yards, interception) providing an unimpressive showing after a couple of good performances during the Giants’ first two preseason games.

Meanwhile, veteran backup quarterback Jason Campbell (12-for-19, 101 yards, touchdown) exploited New York’s second unit, directing three scoring drives in Chicago’s first four possessions of the second half to rally the Bears for the win.

On Chicago’s opening two possessions of the half, Campbell led the Bears 59 yards on seven plays, and then 39 yards on seven plays, for a pair of field goals (of 30 and 48 yards) by kicker Robbie Gould, to trim the Giants’ lead to 17-13 in the third quarter.

Campbell then capped an 11-play, 58-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Joe Anderson that gave the Bears the lead for good with 8:22 left in the game.

Carr had a chance to lead New York to a late victory, but with the Giants in the red zone, Carr threw a tipped interception in the end zone, with 1:06 to go.

A quick turnaround is next up for New York, which will host New England, the team it beat in Super Bowl XLVI last year, as the Giants close the preseason on Wednesday night at 7pm, at MetLife Stadium.

Thanks to an odd scheduling quirk, the Giants are in the midst of a nearly six-week stretch during which they won’t have to leave home. Since opening the preseason in Jacksonville on August 10th, New York played as the road team in its own stadium against the Jets last week, and the Giants will remain at home for the first two weeks of the regular season, against Dallas and Tampa Bay. It will be 41 days between road games for New York, by the next time the Giants have to play away from the Meadowlands in a Week 3 regular season game at Carolina on September 20th.

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