EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The story of Stevie Brown's season can perhaps best be told by his status in the Giants' two games against NFC East rival Washington.
When the teams met on Sept. 25 in FedEx Field, the fifth-year safety had just been demoted from the starting lineup. His participation in the Giants' 45-14 victory was limited to special teams.
On Sunday, the teams will meet in a rematch in MetLife Stadium and Brown is once again entrenched in the secondary. He started and played the entire game last week, when the Giants defeated the Titans in Tennessee, 36-7.
"You're always in a better place when you're playing," Brown said today. "It's one of those things where you have to sit back and re-evaluate yourself on film and just kind of start all over again. What really helped me was talking to (special teams coordinator Tom) Quinn. Coach Quinn was telling me to keep my head down, keep playing as hard as I can on special teams and show that I'm still a quality player and my role will increase. And, sure enough, it did. I'm just trying to make the most of my opportunity."
It's the third time he's done that with the Giants.
Brown joined the team as a free agent in 2012 and immediately became an impact player. He played in all 16 games with 11 starts and set a franchise record with 307 interception return yards on eight picks, the most by a Giant in 44 years. He was twice named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
But Brown didn't get a chance to build on that success last year because he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in a preseason game on Aug. 24 and missed the entire season. He endured a long and arduous rehabilitation, and opportunity No. 2 presented itself when he started the season opener in Detroit. But he was replaced during a Week 3 victory over Houston and spent the next nine games as a backup and special teamer.
"It felt like a step backwards," Brown said. "The lifespan of a football player isn't that long, so a step backwards is never good. You always want to keep moving forward. So that's pretty much what I've been trying to do. But being asked to take a step back definitely wasn't something I wanted to do."
"He was upset," coach Tom Coughlin said. "He was internalizing all of that and didn't mind discussing that with anybody that would bring it up. He did it in the right way, obviously."
Two weeks ago in Jacksonville, Brown had six tackles (five solo). Last Sunday, he started for the first time in 2½ months and had two tackles to help the Giants break a seven-game losing streak.
"He fought back," Coughlin said. "He had a serious injury. He spent the whole offseason working on it. He really didn't get started very well. Pondered once he was replaced for a while. I told him that our team needed him to play the way he is capable of playing. He got back on the field and he has made a nice contribution. I am hoping he can do more. He does have outstanding hands and he does have the ability to maneuver in center field. You would like to think he can maybe get in position to have an interception."
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Brown doesn't yet have a pick this season. That is due in part to his reduced playing time, but also with how he is being used.
"I think he has made a conscious effort to be more assignment-oriented and play the techniques that we are asking him to play," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "We have tried to do more with him than just standing in the middle of the field, and be a post player. We have asked him to get down in the box a little bit, we asked him to have various roles. I think he has accepted that instead of just being a middle of the field player. We think he is a very good middle of the field player, don't get me wrong there, but we asked him to contribute and do more."
That's fine with Brown, who is happy to be playing regularly again.
"This year they allowed me to come down a little bit more," Brown said, "be inside the box, cover man-to-man on the number two receivers and do a little bit more just to expand my role and use my abilities more."
Brown's story, both in his career and this season, is one of perseverance and capitalizing on opportunities.
"I never doubted myself," Brown said. "That's one thing I've never done. I've had injuries, I've had setbacks, but I always believed in myself and always believed in my abilities, so I've never doubted myself.
"It's one of those things where whenever you believe in yourself and just continue to work hard, you do everything that the coaches ask you to do. That's what I've been trying to do. To be able to get back on the field and be able to contribute and be able to play definitely feels good."
It's good for the Giants, too.
- Quarterback Eli Manning (back) practiced fully today and is listed as probable for the game Sunday vs. Washington. Linebackers Jameel McClain (knee) and Mark Herzlich (concussion) also practiced fully and are probable. Linebacker Jacquian Williams and tackle James Brewer, who each have a concussion, are out.
- For Washington, quarterback Colt McCoy practiced fully and is questionable because of the sprained neck he suffered last week. Also questionable are defensive ends Jason Hatcher (knee) and Kedric Golston (back/foot), wide receiver Desean Jackson (shin), and defensive tackle Chris Baker (chest/toe). Hatcher did not practice, the others were limited.
Running back Roy Helu (toe), safety Brandon Meriwether (toe) and linebacker Keenan Robinson (knee) are out.