But on Thursday night, in his first career NFL start and on national television, the 25-year-old journeyman running back delivered the goods to lead New York to a 33-7 blowout of the Carolina Panthers.
Filling in for injured starter Ahmad Bradshaw, Brown broke his second carry for a 31-yard run and finished with 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 20 carries. Before last week, Brown had all of two carries for minus-1 yards for his career.
“I’m so happy to come out here. It really humbled me. It really shows that everything is not guaranteed,” Brown told the Associated Press after the game. “You know, I’m just going to ride this wave. Hopefully, it’s a long wave.”
The Giants selected Brown out of N.C. State in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, but he tore his Achilles tendon in camp, missed the entire season and was cut the following year. He spent 2010 bouncing around from the Broncos to the Colts to the Panthers to the Redskins before the Giants re-signed him in 2011 — only to later release him again. After successfully fighting a four-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy this summer, Brown narrowly made the Giants roster and finally got onto the field in Week 2.
New York’s depth was seriously tested against Carolina with wide receivers Hakeem Nicks (foot) and Domenik Hixon (concussion), right tackle David Diehl (knee) and a depleted secondary. But their replacements stepped up in a big way. Like Brown, fourth-year receiver Ramses Barden also had a breakout performance in his first start, catching nine balls for 138 yards.
Brown’s performance should land him steady carries even after the oft-injured Bradshaw returns to the lineup. The 6-foot, 227-pound back is bigger and stronger than Bradshaw and could provide the second half of the one-two punch the Giants relied on with Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs in recent seasons. And after the Giants spent a first-round pick on Virginia Tech running back David Wilson, they may have found what they needed was right under their noses all along.
“At this level, you never know when you’re going to get an opportunity, you’ve got to be prepared for it,” said Eli Manning, who had another stellar night with 288 yards and a touchdown on 27 of 35 passing. “Andre Brown is a great example. He’s a guy we drafted, he bounced around, and we brought him back. He was on the bubble to make the team, and here you go.”