EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants' sixth starting running back of the season is apparently a keeper.
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Giants-Raiders Gameday Photo Gallery Andre Brown, activated off the injured reserve list on Thursday, made his 2013 debut on Sunday and it was one to remember. He carried the ball 30 times for 115 yards – both career-highs for Brown and season-highs by a Giants back – and scored the team's final touchdown as the Giants continued their surge with a 24-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders. It was the team's third consecutive victory after a 0-6 start.
"I carried it 30 times? It felt like 50," Brown said at his postgame news conference. "There were a couple times where I was like, 'Ah,' tapped myself (to let the coaches know he needed a breather) and got out of there. But I didn't know – what did (coach Tom Coughlin) predict, 40? He was 10 off (Coughlin had joked last week that he expected 40 carries and 15 catches from Brown). I didn't expect that many carries but when we're down there running the ball like we did, I guess you stay on pace and you stay on track. I guess we just keep it rolling.
"I'm a little sore, you know, my back. I knew going into it that I was going to come out a little sore. I'm going to have to go sit in the cold tub at the house with a little salt and stuff like that, so it won't affect me too much tomorrow."
Brown was the Giants' primary offensive force on a day in which they gained more yards on the ground (133) than through the air (118 net passing yards). Not bad for a back who broke his left leg for the second time in nine months on Aug 29. He missed the first half of the season and began practicing on Oct. 17.
"That's very impressive," coach Tom Coughlin said of Brown's workload. "And he had four-five guys on his back for a while. The league and the policy as far as the three-week build-up after you've been on the short-time (IR) is a good thing. Over the course of those three weeks, he built his stamina, he built his confidence. I know when he first came back he thought he was missing some cuts and he thought he wasn't as natural, as instinctive, as he wanted to be. The three-week period, the 21 days, I think he felt better about it."
Brown's 30 carries were his highest total in any game since Oct. 29, 2006, when he was a sophomore at North Carolina State playing against Southern Mississippi. That was the only time in his college career he had more than 26 attempts in a game. His previous high totals as a pro were 20 carries for 113 yards at Carolina on Sept. 20, 2012.
With just one game played, Brown is within 39 yards of team rushing leader Brandon Jacobs. And he could well be the team's primary back and provide much stability at the running back position the rest of the season, beginning next week against Green Bay.
The Giants have already started David Wilson (on injured reserve with a neck injury), Da'Rel Scott (no longer with the team), Jacobs (who has hamstring and knee injuries that forced him to miss his third consecutive game), Peyton Hillis and rookie Michael Cox at running back this season. But not one of them were as productive as Brown. He ran for 65 yards and averaged 4.6 yards a carry in the first half.
When the Giants took possession of the ball at the Oakland 45 with 3:21 remaining, the Raiders hoped to force them into a three-and-out that would give them a chance to pull out the game. But Brown picked up a first down on an eight-yard run and another on a five-yarder on a third down that clinched the victory.
"Andre played great," quarterback Eli Manning said. "He ran hard and also hit some big runs, got some 10-yard, 11-yard runs, which was nice. And obviously that last possession we knew we were going to need two first downs to run out that clock and that's exactly what he was able to do. Get huge first downs, not give the ball back to Oakland and run out the clock so that was a great job by that offensive line and Andre, he did help us out."
Brown's career has been marked by uncommon perseverance. Originally drafted by the Giants on the fourth round in 2009, he didn't make the roster until his fourth training camp with the team. In the interim, he a) ruptured his Achilles tendon in his rookie training camp, costing him a season; b) was waived at the end of camp in 2010, played briefly for Denver and Indianapolis and also did stints without appearing in a game with Carolina and Washington that season; c) was cut again by the Giants in 2011 and spent the entire season on the practice squad.
In 2012, Brown finally made the roster and rushed for 385 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns before fracturing his leg on Nov. 25 vs. the Packers. He re-broke the leg in August. Through it all, Brown kept plowing ahead, confident he can be a productive NFL back. On Sunday, he again demonstrated that when he does play, he is an important contributor to the Giants' offense.
What was Brown's mindset through all those travails?
"Just staying positive," Brown said. "A huge shout out goes out to all of the guys in the training room, Ronnie Barnes and Byron Hansen and Steve (Kennelly), they really put me back together a couple times, so I really respect what they do in there. Ronnie, even though he hated my singing, he stayed on me and they really kept me positive and motivated me to come back out here and play. Other than that, coming off the injury, just staying positive and being around the guys and making sure that I was helping them out. They were making me feel like I was a part of the team. It goes out to the offensive line, everybody feeding off of me and I'm feeding off of them. It's a good feeling right now."
So, too, for his coaches and teammates, who are happy to celebrate another victory and to see the hard-working Brown back on the field.
"I don't think there's any doubt this is very rewarding and very satisfying," Coughlin said. "Perseverance does pay off and he is a guy who has persevered. He had torn his Achilles and he was off our team, he came back, he got hurt with the leg, he gets hurt again. He hangs in there. Give (general manager) Jerry (Reese) credit thinking he would be back and he is back in the same season, with a break in the last preseason game, so we're real happy. I don't think you can say enough about him, from one game coming back. He hadn't been hit, literally. That was my concern going in, ball security, he hadn't even been tackled."
But Brown held up in brilliant fashion. He can continue two great stories – his own and the team's – if he can keep it going for seven more weeks.