On that play, which began with 30 seconds remaining in the first half, Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas pursued Cutler only to crumple to the turf after an awkward collision with defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Teammates quickly surrounded Thomas, and not long after he was helped into the locker room, the Giants announced the grim news: Thomas, a vital part of the secondary, had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He almost surely will be lost for the season, a development that darkened a 41-13 Giants victory.
The injury is crushing, both for Thomas, who is in the final year of his contract, and for the Giants, who are suddenly facing a crisis at cornerback. Thomas, a fourth-year veteran, had 5 interceptions, 101 tackles and 4 forced fumbles last season, and was seen by many observers as a potential Pro Bowler this season.
Without him, the Giants are likely to turn to Aaron Ross as a starter opposite Corey Webster. Ross, a former No. 1 draft pick who has had an injury-filled career, had previously been used as a nickelback.
“I don’t think it’s something you can just replace,” safety Antrel Rolle said of losing Thomas. “It’s definitely going to alter our defense a little bit. But we can’t hang our heads.”
Further complicating the situation is the Giants’ lack of depth at cornerback. Their top draft pick, Prince Amukamara, broke his left foot during his second practice of training camp and is expected to be out until at least the middle of September; another reserve cornerback, Bruce Johnson, is out for the year with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. Defensive back Brian Witherspoon also left Monday’s game with a knee injury.
For the short term, at least, that means the focus on Ross will increase. Ross did not record an interception over the past two years, but was impressive in the first half Monday with good coverage on two passes targeted for the former Cowboy Roy Williams and a break-up on a pass intended for Devin Hester at the goal line.
“Corners have been going down like flies around here,” Ross said. “It’s a big hurt to the team. A teammate went down, now it’s my job to step in. It’s unfortunate, but I need to be ready to go.”
The disappointment surrounding Thomas’s injury was heightened by the fact that it came so late in the second quarter — a point in the game when, in most other preseasons, a starter like Thomas would likely be on the sideline.
With training camps compressed because of the lockout, however, Coach Tom Coughlin said the Giants extended the playing time of some players, making sure to get them 25 to 30 plays. The Bears still had Cutler, their No. 1 quarterback, in the game for the final drive of the half, and the Giants had their defensive starters on the field. Including Thomas.
After colliding with Pierre-Paul, Thomas was attended to by team trainers and then he hobbled off the field with a tight smile on his face, offering a momentary indication that perhaps he was not too badly hurt. But it was false hope.
“I didn’t even know what happened,” Pierre-Paul said. “It’s a bad way for it to happen.”
The pall cast by Thomas’s injury also obscured several performances from the Giants that were encouraging after a poor showing in the team’s first preseason game. The Giants finally scored a touchdown on offense when Jacobs ran 18 yards, highlighted by a slick shimmy move that sent Chicago safety Major Wright to the turf.
Eli Manning played about halfway into the second quarter and finished 8 of 16 passing for 78 yards. His best throw was a 21-yard completion to Victor Cruz, who got several snaps with the first team as a third receiver, on a fourth down that led to the first points of the game, a 25-yard field goal from Ryhs Lloyd.
Lloyd added another field goal (from 37 yards out) and the Giants’ special-teams unit was impressive, with Devin Thomas ripping off a 73-yard kickoff return and Greg Jones breaking through to block a punt late in the second quarter that preceded a 5-yard touchdown pass from David Carr to Domenik Hixon.
The rookie Da’Rel Scott made the play of the night when he scored on a 97-yard run late in the fourth quarter after stumbling at the line of scrimmage, maintaining his balance and outracing the Bears’ secondary. Linebacker Mark Herzlich set up Scott’s run by intercepting a pass at the Giants’ 2-yard line.
Hixon’s touchdown catch was his first at New Meadowlands Stadium since he tore his A.C.L. last June.
On the first play of the ensuing Bears drive, Thomas ran into the backfield, only to topple. His knee was twisted and his season, previously filled with promise, ended before it ever truly began.