Andre Brown gets his chance for Giants, and runs with it
Originally selected by the Giants in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, Brown suffered an Achilles injury on the final day of training camp as a rookie, spent the entire season on injured reserve. In all, he had been released eight times by five teams and then spent the Giants' Super Bowl season in 2011 on the team's practice squad.
He wasn't a lock to make the team coming out of the preseason, especially after losing a fumble in a game against New England, but just managed to survive the final cutdown.
The lesson here is simple, as Brown explained afterward.
"Never give up," he said.
He heard those words constantly while at North Carolina State, courtesy of the late basketball coach Jim Valvano, who won a national championship with that simple phrase that still reverberates at the school that's only a few hours' drive from where he made his debut as a starter.
"He always said, 'Never give up in anything you do,'" Brown said. "You persevere. You keep at it."
Even during the tumultuous 2010 season, when he was released five times -- by the Giants, Broncos, Colts, Panthers and Redskins -- he didn't stop believing in himself.
"Even though I was getting released, I kept getting signed, so somebody wanted me," he said. "You get cut, but someone signs you, so it means you've got some talent."
Brown rejoined the Giants in 2011, but only on the practice squad, and he saw his team win the Super Bowl without him. Thursday night, he became an indispensable part of a victory that showed the Giants can and will be a contender once more, even if Brown was one of several players previously used in an understudy role who starred in the victory.
Fourth-year wide receiver Ramses Barden, mostly a disappointment his first three seasons with the team, had nine catches for 138 yards in place of the injured Hakeem Nicks. Rookie cornerback Jayron Hosley had an interception while earning his second consecutive start because of injuries at the position. Journeyman tackle Sean Locklear started at right tackle in place of the injured David Diehl.
It was a special night for a lot of unsung Giants' players, but none as much as Brown.
"I feel like I can play in this league, and I got the right team," he said. "I'm comfortable with my guys. These are the guys that drafted me, they believed in me, and they came and got me back for a reason. This is not the end. I'm satisfied, but I still want more. I don't want this to stop."
It won't, especially after what Brown showed Thursday night. Starting in place of Ahmad Bradshaw, who suffered a sprained neck in Sunday's 41-34 win over the Buccaneers, Brown ran with authority throughout the game, hitting the hole with conviction, and breaking tackles with both power and speed. By halftime, he had 96 rushing yards and a touchdown, and was a major factor in the Giants' success in maintaining a significant edge in time of possession and thus keeping Cam Newton off the field as much as possible.
That was part of the Giants' plan, as coach Tom Coughlin explained afterward, and it worked beautifully. The Giants kept the ball for more than 36 minutes to the Panthers' 23. In the first half, the Giants had 40 plays on offense to the Panthers' 24. Newton seemed flustered throughout the game, never getting untracked and finishing with a quarterback rating of just 40.6.
Eli Manning helped set the tone for Brown and the other young players filling in for injured starters with a few words at a team meeting about four hours before the game. After a brief walk-through at the team hotel, Manning gathered the offense together and told the young players to be prepared for their opportunity.
"I just said, 'Everybody just do your job. We have playmakers. We have to be patient,'" Manning said. "'Take what the defense gives us and when we have opportunities to get the ball down the field or break a run or make a big catch, guys are going to do that.' That's what happened."
The young players heeded their leader's words, and put on an impressive performance in crushing the Panthers. No one was more impressive than Brown, who finally made good on his chance.
Even though that chance came later than he expected.